To say goodbye after 53 years of marriage is impossible. To see, kiss and hold your love for the last time, challenges your sanity. To watch him disappear into a black chasm is unthinkable.
Barry was always Barbara’s only true love. Sure, they had fought over the years, even had a brief stint apart when it got unbearable, but you can’t fight true love. Soul-mates are forever. It was a crisp, bright spring morning when they said “I do” all those years ago. It didn’t matter that her ring was tiny. That her dress was 2nd-hand or that their budget dictated that they have a breakfast and not a dinner party. What mattered was that Barry stared into her eyes, tears rolling down his face as they declared their love for each other. Barry had taken some teasing for that!
For months their friends watched her stomach, believing that she was pregnant. But she wasn’t, she was in love. Their first apartment wasn’t much bigger than a single garage, Barry could almost stretch his lanky arms across it. “Our own broom closet” he would say. Babs loved it. There they learned about sex, each other, how to be frugal with their money and most of all they learned how to show their love.
As the years passed their children were born. First Carrie, then Sondra then little Barry. They moved to a bigger home, although the girls always shared a room, it had a garden and trees. Life was tough but filled with wall-to-wall laughter and love, Babs wouldn’t have changed a thing.
This is what went through her mind when she stared into Barry’s now pain-filled eyes. Wrinkles ran like paper creases from his eyes. Laugh lines. Evidence of a good soul. A happy life. Babs stroked his hand, his head, his cheek just touching him to keep her terror at his death away. There was no way she could go on alone. No way. Her children so kindly took turns to comfort her, crooning soothing words into her neck and cuddling her. They knew the end was near and they were beyond heartbroken.
This strong, kind and gentle man was at death’s door. They all knew it, including Babs. The cancer had come to him. First it ate his lymph nodes then went on a round trip infecting every organ except his brain, strangely enough. Babs watched her spirited, solid man turn into a shell of himself. Saw his eyes sink back into his head, his skin go grey and the life leak from his eyes.
Finally, she had cried all her tears, sobbed all her sobs and made peace with what was coming. Babs made her preparations. She chose his best suit, Sondra had made sure it was freshly dry-cleaned, his church shirt and favorite poppy red pocket hanky. For her, she chose a navy dress with diamante around the cuffs and collar. She loved this dress, even though it was now a little big for her. Pretty shoes and navy stockings finished off her ensemble. The funeral was planned down to the last detail, the hymns were chosen and the tea arranged.
Barry died late one night. His breathing slowed and his heart rate increased. The Hospice nurse gave a gentle smile of encouragement and squeezing Babs’s hand said “It won’t be long now. Stay strong”. The children were all there along with various partners and an old friend. They held each other and spoke in whispers. That afternoon he smiled at his Babs and clasped her hands in his with what little strength he had left. Looking past his family he suddenly said, “Mom, dad, the flowers….” shocking them all. One last shuddering breath and his chest stopped moving. The heart that had beaten for so many years and so many reasons lay motionless.
The funeral was quickly booked for the next afternoon, the doctor had signed off and Barry was prepared for his eternity, at the funeral home. Babs spent extra time getting ready, giving herself two extra sprays of the aromatic jasmine and rose perfume she always wore. Babs called Carrie “please take me to the church early. I want some time alone with your father before anyone else gets there.” Carrie agreed even though she had so much to do, but it was irrelevant compared to her mother’s request.
She walked Babs in to the chapel, cuddling her for comfort. Babs was calm and her cheeks were dry. “Carrie my girlie” Carrie smiled at that, here she was in her 50’s and she was still her mom’s “girlie”. “Thank you for being such a rock for me my love. You, Sondra and Barry are my life, my world. I love you to the moon and back”. Hugging her again, Carrie breathed in the scent of her mother, loving her to her core. “Always remember that!” she reached up and caressed her face, wiping Carrie’s tears away with her thumb. “I will mom. We love you too. Will you be ok?” concern furrowed her face. “Always” Babs said determinedly.
One last hug and Carrie backed away giving her mom the space she needed, closing the door. Carrie waited outside enjoying the smell of the roses and the peace before everyone arrived. She could feel her father around her and it was comforting.
Babs walked slowly to the coffin set in front of the church. Barry had insisted on being right in front with an open coffin. The priest had thoughtfully left a chair at the side of the coffin. Babs, moving quickly, placed an envelope on the chair, “Carrie” it said on the outside in bold writing.
Babs climbed onto the chair and into the coffin, struggling a little and careful not to make too much noise. Sliding down next to Barry, she leaned over and kissed his cold cheek. “Together as always” she whispered. Babs pulled the lid closed, switched on a little light she had brought with her and took 6 tablets with a small bottle of water. They were Barry’s heart medication and more than 1 was fatal. It slowed her heart within 15 minutes and stopped it completely 5 minutes after that. Babs relaxed, put her arms around Barry and just went to sleep.
Carrie felt a presence and looked up. She could have sworn she saw her mother and father together. She put it down to nerves and grief, returning to her phone. Half an hour later she knocked gently on the door “Mom, you ok? Can I come in?’ Nothing, of course. There was no-one left alive in the chapel. Going in Carrie immediately noticed 2 things. Her mother was no nowhere to be seen and the coffin was closed. Getting closer she saw the envelope and her heart skipped a beat. “What had her precious, head-strong mother done now?”
Rushing to tear open the envelope, Carrie’s heart was racing. “Carrie, please respect my decision and leave me to be with dad. I have already gone, just a bit sooner than I would have as I would surely have died of a broken heart without him. I love you all so much, I’m sorry that you have to lose your mother and father together but know that we are only happy together. I could not let him go alone.” Carrie’s heart caught in her chest and she let out a sob. Slowly opening the coffin, her heart broke to see them both lying there. She could see her mother was gone but made sure anyway.
“Love you both” Carrie kissed them goodbye, her tears falling on their faces. Leaving the little torch on, she closed the lid and tried to gather herself. When Sondra and Barry got there a few minutes later she called them alone into the church and told them what had happened. After the shock had worn off and they both made sure their mother was dead, they accepted it, even though the pain was intense. They didn’t want either parent to be apart, they understood that their mother needed this and accepted it.
As they welcomed people into the church the children told everyone that their mother was too poorly to attend the funeral. She sends her love and will hopefully soon be better. They buried their father, and their mother that day, saying little prayers but understanding that this was final.
The next day they reported their mother missing and 6 months later had her declared dead.
After 2 years they changed their father’s headstone to include their beloved mother. Standing at the grave the children wished their mother and father well, knowing that they were together for all eternity.