This will never be my favorite day of the year, the anniversary of Sarah’s death eight years ago. I still push that day from my memory. I and my family have generally learned how to get along with our loss, but the scar will always be there, and when it’s reopened, the world spins.
I went, as I usually do on Sundays, to the Unitarian service. I like to remember Sarah sitting in the pew about eight rows back in the white, historic Unitarian church in Omaha. Sarah was not particularly fond of the minister, an overweight old man with long white hair, fond of carrying on for most of the service about Whitman. Not that we didn’t like Whitman, but we didn’t on Sunday mornings enjoy another exegesis of Lilacs. I would generally be sitting with the choir, Sarah in the pews. She would register her contempt whenever Ron began his quasi-sermon by noisily opening her copy of the New York Times and rattling it every now and then while he spoke. She would attend only because I liked singing in the choir, and we very much liked the Unitarian friends we had made in Omaha.
Our church in Harrisonburg is lay-person run. We have a section every morning when people are invited to share their joys or sorrows with the other members of the congregation. Members are asked to drop a stone in a bowl filled with water (symbol), say their names and share either a joy or sorrow. One older member went up, dropped her stone, said her name, and simply said this was the day her son died eleven years ago.
Others went up after her. I have only once shared anything in that venue. I thought about going up to let the others, many of whom are becoming my friends, know that today was the day Sarah died eight years ago. I was of course struck by the numerology of the scene, today being August 11. I didn’t think I would drop a stone, not that I’m nervous about speaking to a large group of people, but I just didn’t want to say anything publicly about Sarah.
But my feet carried me up there. I said this was the anniversary of Sarah’s death. I was barely able to speak—-the scar opened. I didn’t want to stop there. With a good deal of difficulty, I was able to describe the bright side of today: that my daughter and her three lovely daughters were returning to Harrisonburg after a summer of being elsewhere. I think I may have said “my wife and three grandchildren,” mixing Sarah with Heather, as I often do.
The sermon, if you want to call it that, was a young couple who recently graduated from James Madison University and decided, as they put it, to cohabitate. They put on an absolutely charming performance, taking turns describing what they like and don’t like about living with each other, ending with their conflict over whether they should adopt a rescued cat (she, yes; he, no).
They were a bright, lovely young couple, perhaps twenty-two or -three. I am certain that they were a ray of sunshine for those of us on the last laps. It was clear that they would marry, have children, have a long life together, and bring pleasure to all those lucky enough to know them. Unlike our Omaha Unitarian preacher, they didn’t try to hammer the lesson home. They just mentioned that what they were learning about living together spins outward into the world.
Sarah always lit a candle on our mantle in memory of the day her mother died. Today, that candle burns for Sarah.