|This is dedicated to the family members of Jesse McKee who lost his life in the Joplin tornado this summer. He served his country, his community and his church.
by Patricia Hall
As she climbs the steps toward the softly illuminated building, she clutches Kleenex in one hand. We are on either side of her, steadying her so that her knees don't buckle beneath her. Passing over the threshold, she hesitates, gazing around as if to remember why she is here. Or, is she floating through time, flipping pages of so many yesterdays similar to this one?
They approach her and express kind words, taking her hand for a moment, as they gesture to a little room, down the hall and to her left.
She must let go of my arm to return their grasp and seems unwilling to do so. The moment she is able, her arm is threaded back through mine and her head nods as if she is comprehending their instructions.
We nudge her forward. Trembling, she stumbles heavily along. She pauses at the door, placing her palm upon it. We wait.
Holding her breath and closing her eyes, we enter the room. Her open eyes sweep over him. She is wracked with sobs and lets go of us to run her weathered hands along the flag-veiled wooden cradle where he is now resting.
We follow behind in her steps, both lightly touching her back to remind her that we are with her. She doesn't feel us or see the others who have formed a broken circle along the walls of the room.
She reaches out and touches his face gently. Her fingers trace over his features as if they too, must confirm what her mind is trying to process.
She throws her body over his, perhaps in an attempt to shelter him from the hours that await them both. We are on either side of her and after a moment, are gently pulling her upright. She smooths out his suit where she has lain upon it.
Before she turns and leaves his side, she bends down and whispers into his ear that she loves him and that she wishes to take his place. Her lips brush near his as she has done countless times before.
Again, we stand on either side, each grasping an arm. We lead her to a chair and she collapses into it, weeping into her hands. We sink into the nearest sofa and keep vigil as family members finally approach her.
She continues to wipe tears out of her eyes as each one murmurs condolences and leans down to offer a hug or a soft touch in an effort to soothe her. They are momentarily successful until her gaze returns over and over to where he sleeps silently.
The last leaves the room and we suggest that if she is ready, we should follow. When she is able to tear her eyes and her presence away from him, we stand and return to our positions along side of her.
She is even heavier now, and it is more of an effort for her to put one foot in front of the other. We reach the door and her palm settles upon it once again. She hesitates, straightens her shoulders and holds her breath.
We usher her into the hallway and shuffle toward the exit. As we do so, her eyes stare blindly ahead at the family that awaits her outside. She knows that she has just seen her son for the last time and is reluctant to move.
Once more, she is approached by the solemn staff who softly speak to her as they step forward and offer a hand. They open the door. She slowly ambles out of the darkness and crosses into the light.