The Good Left Behind
Mourners we stood, slim columns of love bearing up under a vault of grief. Our breath made clouds in the bitter cold air; the wind spritzed them back against our faces.
I peeked out through eyelashes frozen stiff with tears at the metallic brown casket poised above the pile of clay and rock. I had invited our family and friends to write send-off messages on it in permanent gold ink. My husband’s coffin looked like a doodle board, the messages a crazy squiggle of good-byes.
Mittened fingers clutched balloons. Mine was orange. Hers was yellow. My daughter looked breakable standing there in the foot-deep snow, a pale, tall, slip of a girl in a black pea coat, jeans, and scuffed Doc Martins. My arm circled her waist to hold us up.
Three friends, men he loved, sang the blessing he could never get through without crying. Grown men with ashen faces, they were but little boy baritones putting hands to their hearts for a friend — a friend who had left the playground without saying goodbye.
“Should your blankets be torn, may your breezes blow warm,” they sang. “May your treasures be what you find. May the burdens you bear like your bounties be shared. May you leave something good behind.”*
I wished then that I’d thought to bury him, swaddled tight, in a soft, warm blanket. As its threads rotted, his ashes, flesh, and bones could have crawled into the blades of grass, blossomed into flowers, and built rings in the trees. Instead, I had forever shut him away in a cement locker and a metal box lined with ivory satin.
It was time. We let go of our balloons. Faces upturned, we watched their helium buoyancy lift them into the grey and cloudy winter sky. Up, up, and away they went.
We inhaled as the colorful orbs with long strings danced and bobbed in the stiff breezes, lofted high above the West Virginia mountain we stood on. The trees of the forest, bare of leaves but proud nonetheless, stood taller and turned their branches to watch.
A current sprung from the earth and rushed up through us, exhaling in a shared shout of gratitude that cracked through the pain.
“I will miss you to the moon and back,” I prayed. “My love is forever.” Shrunken against the big mystery of his death, I shivered in my long, taupe coat. I hiccoughed behind my burnt orange scarf as the bitter medicine of bereavement burned down my throat and into my belly. I drifted away with those balloons.
Even the white Peruvian lilies and roses in his grave blanket waved good-bye. A shaft of sunlight, a beam of grace, pierced the afternoon mist and played on his grave as the last balloon disappeared over the curve of the mountain ridge.
We huddled, milled, and murmured, unsure what to do next. I did not want to leave him, cold and alone.
The priest muffled a sob as he croaked, “the service is concluded.”
Copyright 2021: Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D.
Copyright 2021: Photo by Carol Deedler
* Lyrics from “Have a Good Life” by Brewer & Shipley from the album Rural Spaces
Linda Sandel Pettit, a priestess-at-heart and retired counseling psychologist, offers Zoom-based or phone psychospiritual conversations from her home in the Arizona desert. She loves putting her intuitive nature, spiritual understanding, and clinical experience, in service to others. For information about fees and packages, visit BOOK NOW. Email Linda for more information or fee assistance.
Moving through grief? Use the coupon TENDERHEALING for a $75 reduced rate.
With her colleague, Lydia Randolph, Linda will premier a new small group program for women, I’M SPEAKING, on March 4th, 2021. Watch her programs page for details. Another program, Confluence: The River of Intuitive Spirituality is also in the planning stages.
Biographical information about Linda can be found at www.thedrspettit.com.