She was at peace.
I studied her delicate face then looked over at my children. There was sadness in their eyes, but they stopped crying the day before. I understood their pain, but nothing compares to losing someone you have known all your life. I remember her when I was my youngest child’s age, I remember her in school, I remember comforting her when her mother died, I remember her every movement, every smile, every tear. The word ‘pain’ does not do this feeling justice and now I bear it with the grief of two motherless daughters and a broken son.
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When we returned home, I saw them rush to their grandfather. He hugged them with such warmth I could feel the coldness surrounding them break. The same coldness that kept the sadness at bay and their cheeks dry. I saw that coldness break in my children and they let out all their emotions at once. My shell didn’t break and I fulfilled my role as a loving father with a straight face.
I felt horrible.
“Thank you, James,” Emma’s father, Philip, began. “I know it’s a long way.”
I shook my head, the smallest of smiles forming. Philip wanted the body to be buried close to his wife and I could only agree. Emma’s side of the family was kind and loving, such emotion and attachment were dissolved in alcohol and other substance abuse on my side of the family. Perhaps that’s why I was so cold, having felt too much pain before?
“It’s only right,” I told him, leaving the subject with those words alone. “The kids needed this too, a chance to say goodbye with the rest of the family.”
“I...I am having trouble feeling...what I should be feeling and it’s only making me feel worse.”
“I understand, I really do, James. It’s cruel that it had to happen this way, for both of us. You see such sadness around you...and you feel that pain, but not the comfort over letting that emotion spill out of you. It just keeps building.”
“When does it break?”
“When you lose someone so important in your life, it takes time for you to realize the weight of the loss. It’s like standing at the foot of a mountain and your eyes are slowly rising, but it’s only when you see the top that you understand the size of it. Keep thinking of her, now’s a time to mourn.”
The man had lost his daughter and he still spoke with such wisdom and kindness. He felt the sorrow, he was still feeling the sorrow, but he had a heart of gold. He showed such love for his grandkids and even me. Philip was never the father in law I expected, which was a good thing. He left me to my thoughts and after a week in his home, I saw myself seeing the peak of the mountain and finally breaking.
As much as the weight rested heavy in all our hearts, we all parted with smiles.
The days that followed were bittersweet and I could see it affecting my children. The feeling of loss became more profound in returning home, for many reasons. It is a very different experience living in a home you no longer share with someone you care about. Many responsibilities are laid down upon you, and whether you enjoy them or not, they are a reminder of the giving nature of one’s mother.
Still, we managed, for the most part, to learn some fundamental skills we should have known for a long time, but never bothered with. The burden became easier and the thoughts became happier until at last, it seemed that our mourning had come to an end.
However, one of us fell deeper into this terrible sadness.
Seeing how we all moved on quicker than him, my son grew angry and his passion was directed at us. For the most part, I dealt with it calmly, but it was when he attacked one of his sisters that I let anger take over. I displayed a furious nature, teaching him as best as I could at that moment, but when you are so angry, all you think of is punishment.
Everyone had separate rooms and I locked him away in his until we all calmed down. Not a great solution, but the only one I had. Restricting him from other activities helped further his anger and the results began to show themselves in strange muttering under his breath. For the longest time, I believed he was talking to himself, saying the things he wasn’t brave enough to say to our face.
Life went on for the rest of us, but he wallowed in anger and sadness until that corruption swallowed his mind. It saddened me greatly but then worried me more. One night, I found him standing at the entrance to the youngest siblings room, staring in at the sleeping form of his brother. He was muttering so many terrible things that became clear in the stillness of the night. I watched him in the cool light of the moon, saying the horrors that were to be committed and I felt fear.
I would like to think fear is what manifested what I saw next, but my family and I know better now.
From the shadows, a silhouette stretched forward and placed itself on my cursed son’s shoulder. It became clear in the moonlight; a hand, delicate and glowing. Instinctively, I thought a stranger had broken in and had laid hands on my child, so I marched towards the silhouette, only to find it recede into the darkness and vanish from sight. In silence, I stared at nothing and then my eyes lowered to the wide eyes of my son.
He appeared normal, as did his attitude when I told him to go to bed. He scowled at me and then his expression relaxed as if I was no longer worth his fury. Slowly he walked back to his room, but from then on, I knew I was being looked at by something else, not my son.
In the nights that followed, I found my daughter and youngest son fleeing to my room and staying with me. The two of them would tell me unbelievable things about their brother, how his voice sounded wrong, how he hurt himself and didn’t seem to care. I was confused at first, but then it dawned on me that my child might have done something dangerous and I ran to his room.
I found him, curled up in the centre of his room, in a pool of his blood. When I rushed towards him, he simply sat up so suddenly that I hesitated. It was good that I did, as I saw the glint of metal at his side. He scowled and eyed me wickedly, climbing to his feet slowly and prepared to attack.
Sadness overwhelmed me.
It was easy to disarm the child, to contain his struggle and take him to the hospital. The cuts were deep and the blood loss immense, but the doctors were able to save him. To my surprise, it seemed that the horrific ordeal was enough to change my son for the better. When he awoke from his deep sleep, he appeared sad, tired and scared. All the emotions he didn’t show before. Frail, damaged and worried, my son reached for me and I hesitated, but only for a second.
I saw in his eyes the same warmth I had seen before all the mess began. He talked just like before, he showed so much more humanity in every word, there were no scowls or bitter snaps. I felt like I had my son again.
I thought the suffering had come to an end. Leaving my son in the care of the doctors while I returned home to gather my other children, an overwhelming sense of danger hit me and I drove faster. It was getting late, the lights were out and there was an incredible silence. I thought my oldest had simply put the youngest to bed, but then I heard their screams.
Adrenaline had a startling effect on my mind and for the second time that day, I found strength.
I broke through the front door, charging into the house and towards the screams. I saw my children rush towards me, then past me and out of the house. I looked back at them, then turned to see the face I was trying to remember. The face of someone I knew so well, but I suddenly knew nothing about. It was the face of my Emma.
She stared at me with a smile that would have put me at ease before, but now rattled me. Glowing, radiant and appearing before me like an angel. Yet, the walls around her did not glow with her light, it appeared as if she were not there, but before my eyes, appeared so real. Yet, when she approached me, moving from the moonlight and into the shadows, I could see her form shift.
Her body became frail, her moves less graceful and more erratic and the spell was broken. The shambling corpse I could barely make out approached me and I could not contain my fear. With stumbling moves, I backed out of the house, falling over myself and scrambling to get back to my feet. The creature did not pursue beyond the door and I did not wait to see if it would.
I gathered my children and together we abandoned the house and the dead within. Returning to the hospital, we reached my injured son and we remained, saying nothing and knowing too much.
As my children talked amongst themselves, I thought about what I had seen and wondered if I had grown mad with grief. Had my wife’s passing had such a cruel effect or was it real? A question I could not answer, so I chose to stay in the hospital until daylight before returning alone, leaving my children in the care of kind nurses.
I found my home empty of any spirit and for the strangest reason, I was unhappy. In the light of day, everything appeared so much warmer, so much safer. Yet, when I imagined it at night, there was nothing but danger.
As I wandered through the rooms, cautiously looking, carefully listening, I looked back at all the memories. The sad times, worrying and fighting, but it was all thanks to love. Love for each other, wanting the best for each other.
The stress, the pain, the sadness. All the terrible emotions resolved in each other’s embrace. It was a power our children discovered. Sorry was so much easier to say and thank you was so much more meaningful when hugging.
The saddest moments I remember so clearly as those were the only ones I regret. The things I said or did, did nothing to make me feel better, but at that moment, I wanted nothing else to do. These were moments I knew she regretted too and I never had the chance to say…
"I'm sorry," I murmured aloud, finding all that emotion surge forward.
I closed my eyes as they burned and felt her embrace. Not daring to open my eyes, I wrapped my arms around her too and together we wept. Tears of sadness turned to one's of joy and love and I heard her apology in return.
Together, for the smallest moments, I felt happy again. True happiness, not the facade that I created for the children's sake. We said nothing more, but it was no longer necessary. Weak to the emotion, I couldn't help but open my eyes and see nothing.
My arms were empty again, but my heart remained full.
For the sake of my family, I collected some necessities and phoned my father-in-law. He was all too happy to keep the kids while I sorted things out at home. I decided at that moment that it would be better if we sold the house.
Madness to many was the only sane thing for us. We never saw her again and it was better that way. We didn't need to think about all that was wrong, we needed to only move on.