Death, especially one as sudden and as violent as Mary Lou's had been, is never easy for a family to cope with. I've often likened such a death to being in a shipwreck. There's the horrifying moments of the wreck itself during which one fights for survival, going on pure instinct and raw nerve. There's pieces of timber, our other family members and friends, that float up to be held onto during the wild ride in the dark icy waves but after the funeral is over and we wash up on a jagged and unfamiliar shore, what then?
Some, like my Mother and Uncle Jess, could pick themselves up and start the long journey back to some semblance of the world before.
Grandpa Lloyd however took one look at this strange new world and decided that his participation in it was no longer needed. And gathering the wreckage of his ship, he crafted a rowboat of sorts and sailed away on a sea of tears. Like Rachel of the bible, he "would not be comforted" and for the remaining twenty years of his life, he bobbed about in his own private sorrow.
Mother Marie sorrowed just as heavily over her oldest step-daughter, a grief that was not helped much by her faith in the Seventh Adventist Day church which teaches that the dead are literally slumbering underground.
The thought of Mary Lou laying in the earth until judgement day disturbed her to no end. This concern would stay with her until one bright day in June 1979 when a heart attack brought about an end to this and all concerns.
The old homestead hung heavy in sorrow. MaryLou was all that Grandpa seemed to want to talk about. It got to the point that Mother began to wonder if her Father even cared for her any more at all. The relationship would be further strained eight years later when Mother went on to do what her sister had only dreamed about: leaving her unhappy marriage and starting out again on her own.
This had been the big secret that last weekend; Mary Lou had finally had all she could take of her marriage to Uncle John.
"I have no more heart left to break, no more tears left to shed", she had declared to Mom, "I'm putting some money by each month and come May of next year, that's it! I'm gone!"
May would be when her youngest would graduate from high school. She had done her duty she reasoned and now could be free without feeling bad about it.
"I am going to be happy, Phyllis!"
As she stood before her sister's casket, a mantra of sorts started up in Mom's head:
"She died and was not happy, she died and was not happy...."
The mantra got louder and soon became a full fledged opera waging war in her heart and head.
She didn't wait for my high school graduation, she waited eight years and then, that was it, the end. Over. Fruit basket upset time all over again.
I've often wondered; had Mary Lou survived, had she gotten her wish and made it out successfully, would Mother have waited longer for her own turn? Or would she gone sooner?
And of Mary Lou's sons; the oldest leaves us with a cautionary tale of never letting the sun set on one's anger.
Bitter words had passed between mother and son that August. He was home on leave and shipped back out to sea without having patched things up. It took a week to get him stateside for the funeral. Whereas the others had had that whole week of sitting with the body and letting go, the poor boy would only get one evening.
In my opinion, he's dealing with this still to this day.
I learned that evening that death did not come stealing sweetly like dreams in sleep. Death could swoop in on wings of fire and twisted steel, tearing apart the world as I knew it, as everyone knew it, from one moment to the next.
Aunt Mary Lou and Grandma Mary Jane hadn't known they were going to live with Jesus that day any more than Mrs. Keller had known when she went to bed that Tuesday evening that she would not wake to see the walls of her bedroom the next morning.
The only thing that would ever be certain was that up above, Jesus would be waiting, the good sheets and towels from the back of his linen closet washed and ready for the next batch of unexpected company.