I’ve only been to five funerals in my life, which, for being almost thirty years old, doesn’t seem like a whole lot. And for that, I’m grateful. But here’s the interesting thing:
Of all the funerals I’ve been to – one, for an uncle; three, for grandparents – the first was for a woman I didn’t even know.
But I knew her granddaughter, and once upon a lifetime ago, we were the closest of friends.
This is her (the granddaughter, that is), today, all grown up, with a beautiful family. Isn’t she pretty?
Her name is Ambre, and we were in junior high when her grandmother died unexpectedly. I remember, through the haze of time and overlapping memories, the questions and fears we had as young teenagers, experiencing death for the first time.
I remember riding in her parents van to the downtown church where the funeral mass was held. I remember how cold and blistery it was that winter day. And I remember most of all, coming across this message from Ambre in on of our high school yearbooks, years later:
“… and thank you for always being there. I’ll never forget that you were the one to comfort me when my grandma died…”
Now, I don’t bring that up, at all, to pat myself on the back, but rather, to make a point, in that, sometimes, when the grief is overwhelming, all you can do for someone is just to BE THERE.
This is a picture of Ambre’s husband, Chad, with their nephew Hayden:
Is this post voyeuristic in nature? It’s not my intention. Not at all.
But for the past week, my heart has been so heavy, and this is how I chose to introduce why.
See, while I’ve laid the foundation for the whole Kevin-Bacon-six-degrees-of-separation-thing with the relationship between my childhood friend Ambre and her sister-in-law Mary, what you may not know is that the Lake Township that Mary and Hayden lived in is also the Lake Township that my inlaw’s live in, and therefore, it is the same Lake Township that I was in on the night of this deadly tornado.
Shortly before 11 p.m. on Saturday night, I was on the phone with my dad, forty miles to my northwest, watching up-to-the-minute television coverage of a line of thunderstorms heading through northwest Ohio. Even as tornado sirens screamed outside my inlaw’s front door, my father said to me: “…well, I’m sure nothing will happen. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And we hung up.
Within a moment of setting down my cell phone, I heard the tornado’s force slam into my husband’s alma mater, a mere mile away.
The photos I’ve included below are used from various public sites, and showcase, in no particular order, only a hint of the destruction I’ve been witness to in the last week.
These are not just photos; they are memories.
I remember the taste of the hamburger I ordered when Jim and I last had dinner with his parent’s at this restaurant:
You’ve heard me write on numerous occasions about our friends Doug and Sara. They hosted their firstborn’s first birthday party at the pavillion and playground that used to be in this photo:
Every time we head out to get ice cream at Paradise, we drive by this cornfield:
A diploma just like this, but with Jim’s name inside, is tucked away in a box in Seth’s closet:
Our friend Rick – a groomsman in our wedding! – and his wife Sarah live with their two young daughters in a neighborhood struck by the twister. You think it won’t happen to someone you love. It does:
Yesterday, Mary’s sister Amy walked into the dry cleaner’s where my mother-in-law works, and asked her to clean and preserve the wedding gown they’d found amid the rubble of Mary’s house. It had belonged to their mother, and Amy wanted to make sure Mary’s daughter Maddie would have it. When Linda told me this when she came home, my heart broke all over again.
I’ve been trying all week to formulate this post – to put into words the terror of Saturday night, the fatigue of Sunday morning, and the sadness of the days to follow as the death toll rose and the piles of debris grew. And I can’t.
For all the training of my publishing education; for all the eloquence I’ve been able to put into posts about my own tragedy and loss; for all the vocabulary I’ve built up over the years of reading and writing… words fail me.
So, today, I will let my tears and silence speak for me.
I will change out of my shorts and tank top, and I’ll head up the street to the funeral home, and I’ll put my arms around a girl-turned-woman I’ve known and loved for a lifetime, and I’ll just be there.
I don’t know what else to do.