“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The minister quoted the familiar Psalm 23 as the crowd of funeral attendees huddled together beneath a bleak gray sky. It was a sea of black and though the sky hadn’t yet opened up and rained down upon us, it was fitting for the mood that was carried on everyone’s faces and in their hearts. I was sandwiched between Alex and my mom as we stood there beside the dark mahogany coffin, waiting for it to be lowered into the earth.
The service at the church had been beautiful, emotional, but beautiful with readings of scriptures and a few speakers who shared stories about my poppy’s life. I sat there next to Alex, with tears streaking my cheeks, trying not to crumble. My mother wept from her place next to my father and my grandmother kept her head bowed for most the service. I was grateful to have Alex at my side. Watching as the pallbearers came to collect my grandfather’s coffin and wheel it out of the church nearly broke me and it was Alex who slid his strong arm around my waist to keep me from sliding to the floor.
And then we followed, riding in a solemn silence behind the Hurst to the gravesite where the rest of the congregation had gathered. It was the committal service and our final adieu to Poppy and as I listened to the minister’s words, my vision began to blur and a choked sob spilled from my mouth. The Psalm he was sharing began to dim in my ears as I stared at that coffin, suddenly being taken back to Hugh’s funeral, remembering how the pain had ripped my chest open. It was starting to happen again; I could feel that sharp stab inside and grabbed at the collar to my dress, finding it difficult to breathe.
Next to me, Alex’s arm slipped around my waist and he pulled me closer to his side. “Just breathe, baby,” he whispered softly in my ear, his breath tickling at my skin.
But I couldn’t. Instead, my shoulders began to rack as more sobs came. I didn’t want to break down, I wanted to be strong, but it was beyond my control. Inside, I felt so much hurt and pain and I wanted to fling myself at the coffin and tell my poppy to come back, to stay with us. I couldn’t bear to lose him and the thought that his body was going to be resting forever in the cold ground was tearing me up.
On my other side, my mom grabbed for my hand and slipped her other arm around my back, trying to help hold me and comfort me through her own excruciating grief and turmoil. I hadn’t wanted her to have to do that; I was supposed to be the one taking care of her, being strong for her. But I was breaking and there was nothing I could do about it.
“Jameson Douglas is not here. The body that lies before us is nothing but the earthly tabernacle, the house in which he lived amongst us. Jameson Douglas is in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we commit this body to the ground and his soul to the Lord.”
As the minister spoke, the mechanism that the coffin was resting on began to come to life and the coffin began lowering, sinking into the grave below it.
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, knowing full well that Jesus is the resurrection and life,” he continued, pausing a moment to allow Spencer, Lindsay and my mother time to step forward and cast a handful of dirt each down into the grave and upon the shiny surface of the coffin.
“Let us pray.”
And then he fell into a prayer and I gripped Alex tightly, pressing my face into his chest and feeling the hot tears streaming down my cheeks. I was only half aware of the prayer that was offered up about my grandfather and his spirit which was now with the Lord. My heart ached and when I heard the sob from my mother, I pulled away from Alex and turned to her, wrapping her in a hug and crying with her, feeling her grief mixing with mine. And it wasn’t until well after the ‘Amen’ that we finally pulled apart.
People began to make their way over, greeting us and offering more condolences and sympathies, but I had to get away. I couldn’t handle being near that grave, seeing the gaping hole in the earth and knowing it housed what was left of my grandfather. Mumbling incoherently through my tears, I slipped through the crowd and headed for a large oak tree far enough away that I knew I wouldn’t be bothered.
I reached the tree and leaned against the thick trunk, using the tissue that had been bawled up in my hand to wipe at my cheeks.
“Morgan,” Alex’s voice drifted into my ears and I turned, finding him standing a few feet away.
“Hi.” He was watching me with such a raw look of pain and hurt and I knew it was killing him that he couldn’t take it away from me, soothe me and make me feel better.
I fiddled with the damp Kleenex, turning my back to him. “I didn’t want to fall apart like this,” I managed out in a strained voice.
“I know.” He stepped behind me and slipped his arms around my waist, allowing the weight of my body to lean against him. “But it’s okay that you did.”
“I needed to be strong for them.”
“You can’t be strong all the time, Morgan. You’ve done such a good job the last few days; you’re allowed to fall apart sooner or later.”
“I hate falling apart.”
He brushed his lips along my neck and held me close. “I know you do.”
“I just want this pain to go away,” my voice wavered and I bit my bottom lip hard.
“I know.” He kissed my cheek then slowly turned me to face him, keeping his arms around me. “But you can’t start to heal until you accept and grieve. Pushing it away and not allowing yourself to go through the whole process doesn’t help you to get better. It only denies the inevitable.”
“How come you always know the right things to say?” I slipped my arms around his waist and pressed my face into his chest.
“I don’t.” He hugged me close and secure.
“To me you do.”
I felt his lips graze my cheek then his cheek press against my head. “Good. That means I’m doing something right.”
“I wanna go home,” I suddenly announced, my voice muffled against his dress shirt.
He lifted his head and peered down at me. “Well, let’s go join the others and head on back. I think your aunt said something about one of your neighbors missing the committal ceremony to make sure all the food was set up.”
“No,” I pulled back some and met his gaze, “home to California.”
“I’m not gonna let you run away from this.”
“I’m… I’m not running away, but I have a life I need to get back to. I’ve been gone from my job for nearly two weeks.”
“And you just wanna leave, like that?” He snapped his fingers.
“No,” I shook my head, “I was thinking Friday.”
He watched me a moment. “Okay, alright, that sounds fine. But you still need to accept and come to terms with what’s going on. And you need to let your family see that you’re vulnerable and hurting and that you still need them.”
I looked off to the side, knowing he was right, but hating it just the same. “I… I don’t know how to do that.”
“You grieve with them, Morgan,” he turned my face back to meet his, “not, letting them grieve and being the one to try to hold it together.”
“But someone has to.”
He lifted a brow. “Has to what?”
“Hold everything together.”
“It’s not going to fall apart, baby. Your family has to much love between them to let that happen.” He still held to my chin. “But you will be right back where you were with them if you don’t let your walls down and stop being so stubborn with them. You need them as much as they need you.”
He was right. We would only be thrown back into that same pattern and it would separate us even more. “I…I don’t know what to do.”
He took my hands. “You talk to them, you cry with them, you let them see and share your pain with you. They’re feeling it too. Don’t push them away.”
“I’ll… try.” I need to, I had to, deep down, I wanted to.
“That’s a start.” He kissed my fingers. “Now, c’mon, we don’t want to miss our ride.” Then he led me back towards the diminishing crowd and the limousine that was waiting to carry us to my parent’s house for the funeral dinner.
I glanced up from where I sat at the baby grand piano to find my mom in the doorway to the sunroom with a glass of wine in her hands. “Mom, hey.”
“What are you doing in here all alone?” She moved further into the room and over to the piano, smoothing her hand over the smooth wood finish.
“I needed some alone time.” My fingers gently traced over the ivory keys, making sure not to press too hard and cause notes to sound. I was enjoying the quietness. The dinner was nearing its end and people were beginning to take leave and head for their homes, hotels or wherever they found themselves staying. I had tried my best to share my grief with everyone, but it proved difficult. I hadn’t wanted to break down and cry, but I had allowed tears to shine through. I’d shared stories and hugs, held hands and listened when someone spoke about my grandfather or their feelings with his death. It was hard and I was exhausted. I needed some time to recharge, hence how I found myself alone in the sunroom that my dad had built onto the back of the house when I was a teen. I had left Alex with Gina who had been more than happy to entertain him. She was ecstatic at meeting him and being able to sit and converse with him on more than just a fan level. So, I knew he was in good hands, excited and probably very chatty, but good hands.
“Same here.” My mother set her wineglass onto a coaster on the piano then motioned to the bench. “May I join you?”
I slipped to the side to allow her enough room to sit. “Of course.”
She sank down beside me and touched the keys, pressing one of them and allowing a note to slip from the belly of the piano. “I don’t think I’ve played this thing in at least a year.”
“Really?” My mother used to love to play the piano. We would gather ‘round it at holidays, and listen to her as she expertly stroked the keys and beautiful music filled the room. At Christmas we would sing carols.
“I’ve just been so busy with work. You know how that is.”
I gave a little nod and pushed another key, causing another note to sound. “How come you never taught me how to play piano?”
“I didn’t think you were interested. I asked you a few times and you never seemed like you wanted to. I didn’t want to pressure you into it.”
“You taught Grayson.”
“I couldn’t keep him away from this thing. He used to sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to practice.”
I chuckled low. “Like you didn’t hear that.”
“We did, but we never let on. He thought he was so sneaky until I finally told him one day.” She tilted her head at me. “Did you want to learn?”
“Not as a kid,” I met her gaze, “but I might like to now.”
“If you lived closer, baby, I would teach you.” She smoothed her hand to my back. “It might get kind of expensive flying back and forth across the country once a week for lessons.”
“Alex plays the piano; I can ask him to show me. He has this gorgeous, dark black grand piano in his home.”
“There you go.” She smiled and kissed my temple.
I turned and met her gaze. “Do you like him?”
“I think he’s a very nice man and he really cares for you. I can see it in his eyes every time he looks at you.”
I had to smile at that, a slight blush creeping up on my cheeks. “I really care about him, too.”
“I know,” she reached and took my hand in hers, “I see that in your eyes.”
“I love him, Mama.”
“I know you do.” She brushed her fingers over my cheek and tucked some hair behind my ear.
Tears were slowly filling my eyes. “I never-” my voice broke and I waited a moment before trying once more. “I never thought I would find someone again. I thought I was going to be alone the rest of my life.” My teary eyes met hers and I saw the love and hurt she had for me. “I thought that was how it was supposed to be.”
“But it’s not and I’m so glad you’ve finally realized that.”
“I…I don’t want to lose him, Mom.” The tears began to slowly slide down my cheeks and I took a breath, reaching up and wiping them away. “I can’t go through something like that again.”
“Oh, baby,” she wrapped me in a comforting hug, “I don’t want that either. No one deserves that.”
I leaned against her shoulder, feeling my tears wetting her blouse. “It…it makes me wan-want to just run away and…and lock my-myself in a room, alone.”
“Something tells me he’d just break down the door.”
Despite my tears, I gave a laugh and sat up straight again, wiping my eyes and nodding. “Then probably drag me out and handcuff us together so I couldn’t get away again.”
She chuckled at that image. “He seems very serious about you.”
“He is and…and I’m serious about him,” I took some breaths to calm myself down, “which scares the hell out of me. But when he’s around, it’s like everything is okay.”
“That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
I nodded some. “Does daddy like him?”
“He does.” She smiled and smoothed her fingers through my hair. “He’s relieved that you’ve found someone, someone who cares a great deal about you and can take care of you with us being so far away.”
“He tries to do that.” My mind went back to that night he rescued me from the storm after I’d been knocked out by the driftwood.
“Do you let him?”
I tilted my head some then gave a nod. “I do. I want him to take care of me. I want to be with him.”
“What about his career? That sounds like it’s a pretty big thing.”
“Yeah.” I sighed some and began tracing my fingers over the piano keys again. “I…know what he does, but I don’t know much about it. So far, nothing’s hampered us or caused any issues. I don’t really know what all his job entails, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon.”
“Sounds like you need to talk to him about that.” She leaned and got her wineglass then sat right again.
“Yeah,” I nodded in agreement, “I think I do. But it’s not going to change my mind; I want to be with him regardless.”
She sipped her wine then lowered it to her lap. “I think that’s great, Morgan, but you need to be prepared for whatever it is his career, his life entails. Just as he needs to be prepared with yours. I assume he knows about Hugh.”
“Yeah, he does and he’s really helped me work past some things.”
She smiled. “I can tell.”
I blushed a little bit then wet my bottom lip. “I don’t…want to be counting my chicks before they’re hatched, but,” I paused, feeling a pressure in my chest and not wanting to speak it aloud and jinx anything.
“I know, baby,” she reached and patted my knee, “you don’t have to say it.”
I smiled then wrapped her in a hug. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, precious.” She kissed my head and returned the hug.
“What are my two ladies doing in here?” My father questioned as he entered the room.
I sat up right again and looked over towards him. “Hey.”
“Hi, beautiful.” He rounded the piano and moved behind us, giving my shoulder a squeeze then he leaned down and kissed his wife on the cheek. “You two need to escape for a bit?”
“Something like that.” I rose from the bench and smoothed my dress, motioning for him to sit. “But I’m glad you’re here, there’s um…something I want to tell you both.”
My mom’s eyes widened. “You’re pregnant!”
My dad frowned at that. “You’re pregnant?”
I blinked. “What? No,” I quickly shook my head, “no, not at all. It’s something else entirely.”
Both parents relaxed and waited for me to continue.
I reached up and fiddled with some of my hair, feeling a little nervous with what I was about to discuss, but knowing I needed to do it. “Um, I just…I wanted to apologize to both of you for…for everything that I’ve done these last couple years.”
My dad frowned again. “Morgan, you don’t have to apologize.”
“Yes, I do. I…ran away to California and tried to push you both out of my life. I hurt you and caused you pain and grief when I shouldn’t have.”
“Baby, you were hurting, too,” my mom tried to counteract with.
“I know,” I tugged on the ends of my hair, “and instead of reaching out to you, I ran. And I hurt you both and I’m so sorry.” And now I was crying again, dadgummit.
“Morgan, baby, it’s okay.” My mom was on her feet and hugging me to her chest. “We haven’t held it against you. We both love you so much and always will, no matter how hard you try to push us away.”
“Your mother’s right,” my dad’s tone was gentle, “we’re always going to be here for you, no matter what. We’re your parents and that’s our job.”
I looked to him and brushed the tears from my cheeks. “You’re not upset with me?”
“No,” he rose to his feet as well and pulled me into his own hug, “we just love you. You’re our little girl and no matter what road you go down, no matter what happens in your life, we are going to be there for you. Rather you want us to be or not.”
I could feel a lump the size of a golf ball in my throat. “I’ve…I’ve been so horrible.”
“We could have tried harder.” My mom touched my back. “We could have come on out there to California anyway.”
“None of that matters.” My father kissed the top of my head and released me. “It’s all in the past and we have to look forward. What happened happened and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
I sniffed some and gave a nod. “You’re right.” Alex had made me see that very clearly over the last few weeks. I took a little breath then wiped my cheeks again. “Thank you both; I couldn’t have asked for better parents. Through…everything, from when I was little to now, you’ve been so wonderful and understanding. And I’m going to try my hardest to work on our relationship and not push you away.”
“That’s all we ask, baby.” My mom smiled and touched my cheek.
I nodded. “And you’re both going to come out to California. I want you to see my house and the beach and where I work and live …I want you to spend more time with me and Alex.”
“We wouldn’t miss it for the world.” My dad squeezed my shoulder then kissed the top of my head. “As soon as I can talk your mother into taking a vacation, we’ll be there.”
“We’re not traveling there in a Winnebago.”
“Oh, Miriam, why not? Come on now, that’d be the perfect thing to do.”
“Neil! I am not driving across the country with you in an RV. End of discussion.” She shook her head and started from the room, obviously finished with the conversation.
“Miriam, you won’t even hear me out.” My father sighed and started after her.
“There is nothing to hear.”
I listened to their voices fade and chuckled low. Those were my parents; always bickering about something or other, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. And after that conversation, I felt tons better and knew things were going to be okay; on all levels. It was time to go back to California. But first, I needed to go rescue my boyfriend from Gina.