Yesterday, Sweetie decided it would be a good idea to clean out some of the junk that's accumulated in our kitchen cabinets. I said OK if I could retain veto power. AND if he promised he would not go out and buy more stuff to fill in the spaces. You know what happens when there is a nice clean space calling out "fill me, fill me."
At the back of the cupboard where dad always kept his booze there were several unused drinking vessels - little oriental brandy cups, green plastic cups Mom used when she was taking her daily medications, a jelly jar that Dad used for his nightly cocktail, some oriental brandy cups, one wine glass, and a thermal glass that held first Mom's then Dad's ice tea every day at lunch. There were also several large plastic cups from Subway, travel coffee mugs without their tops, tops without their mugs.
I've parted with a lot of my parents' things. I've tossed some into the garbage with glee and held onto others with a tight grip. I know what it feels like to say goodbye. But I didn't know I'd be so sad getting rid of cups that are never used. Never used yet still residing in their respective places for as long as I can remember. Crying over empty spaces on a shelf? Really?
Maybe I was feeling sad because of Memorial Day. It's just too hard to see and hear stories about wounded or killed soldiers. It's too hard to realize that the soldiers coming home from the middle east have a lifetime to live with their painful memories. I watched an interview with a 90 year old veteran of D-Day. As he told of running up on Omaha Beach, over bodies of lying in the bloodcovered sand, he cried. 70 years later, the memory still vivid, his heart still hurt. The PBS Memorial Day special is a nice tribute to service men and women; a stark contrast to the news stories about how Vets are being treated - or not- in VA hospitals. It's not just those serving. What happens to the moms and dads, wives and children, sisters and brothers who look at the empty spaces, like my kitchen cabinets, * where there was once a whole person they loved and the lives they imagined do?
Sweetie took me to the cemetery this morning to visit my parents' grave. My heart felt heavy, but I'd already cried. I stood by the marble headstone. Today the empty space in my heart didn't hurt so bad. When I raised my head I took in the site of row after row, markers placed with military precision, decorated with flags, flowers and a few balloons.
"It's a special place," I said to Sweetie.
"Yes," he said, "Silent."
Almost like church. Holy silence.
As Sweetie walked back to the car, I walked along the winding sidewalk. Led as if by a hand I couldn't see, to a woman who was sitting in the wet grass facing a headstone. I tried to count the number of times I'd done the same thing. Just sit there, my hand on the cold marble, in the face of rational truth, hoping that my parents weren't gone.
"Do you mind if I sit with you?" I asked.
"No," she said. "I think God led you here."
Then she told me about her husband of 40 years, Stacy, aka Junior. He's been gone for 4 years and she still can't believe it. I'm leaving you now, he told her, rolled over and died. She replays that night over and over. I tried to imagine what that empty space in her bed must feel like.
In the silence of the moment, with other visitors paying their respects, I listened while Geraldine told me the love story that lasted for some many years. She told me she loved Stacy from the first moment she saw him. "He was so fine." She told me of how Stacy had some "meanness" in him after going to Vietnam, but she loved him enough to stay with him. She told me how she'd brought him back to life a few months before he died. She told me how they'd spent the day together, how she'd made him tea, how he must have known he was was dying. There we sat, two strangers who will probably never see each other again, with silent tears, joined by the common denominator of death.
We hugged each other like sisters. Then I walked away feeling that peace that passes understanding fill the empty space in my heart.
Life goes on. Some spaces will always remain empty. I'm pretty sure Sweetie already has plans for the cupboards.