By Martha and Lillian Maggio
A short story about two women surviving grief and the enormous loss of their loved one. Written by a mother and daughter.
William Windsor Gage, 44, passed away on August 14, 2015 at Evergreen Hospice in Kirkland, Washington. William was born on October 28, 1970 in Kansas City, MO to James and Katherine Gage. Survived by…
The Day We Buried Him by Martha Maggio
I laid on the bed in the late afternoon on top of the well-worn comforter we shared for years. I hadn’t even bothered to remove my muddy flats. All the guests were gone. All the food was put away. My mother was downstairs, picking up plates and napkins. And my daughter was quietly resting in her room. I don’t know if she was asleep, but she was still and I simply couldn’t hold up my head and body any longer.
He’s gone, he’s really gone. Breathe. Breathe. It’s okay. You’re okay.
I can’t DO anything without him.
My face contorted in a soundless cry. Between the silent sobs, I gasped. Sharp, shrill intakes of air rushed through my throat and chest. My forehead throbbed from the pressure of the day and at the bottom of my pain, I felt sick to my stomach. Flat on my back, too tired to move. I ached for him down into my legs and out through my toes. The back of my neck felt heavy, pressing a fist-sized hole through the pillow, bed, floor. I imagined my nose as a mountain and my eyes-endless springs. My cheeks and lobes burned as the cool tears ran sideways. My mind ran down like a stream following the water over the contours of my face landing in the pools of my outer ear.
I wanted to sleep, but my eyes shifted and my lids fluttered every few seconds. The panic had never really left from the moment the nurse whispered, “He passed.” The anxiety and tension merely settled in my neck, shoulders and lower back. I began to think that I would never relax again. I would never sleep for more than a few moments without waking up in a sweaty, startled heave.
The last three nights, I had passed out from exhaustion. I dreamed about floating in the ocean. It was comforting and peaceful. The air was misty and light, soft-white clouds just above my face. I could feel the moisture dancing on my lips leaving sweet, little kisses of salt. Bubbles breaking on my chin, refreshing and cool. Bursts of breeze under my nose. I would try to look at my feet bobbing up and down on the waves and then the water would grow dark and dangerous. I would see small movements and I could feel bodies moving underneath me like sharks. Bumping me. Each encounter more intense and terrifying than the last until I would jerk to a stupor. For only a few precious seconds, I wouldn’t realize that my husband was gone and I still felt normal, married, loved. And then, the pain swirled back in with my gathering awareness. Immediately. Completely. Always.
There was no way I could drive a car, shop for groceries or even walk my daughter to the bus stop in the morning. Those things were never going to happen again. I couldn’t even brush my teeth without crying. Every cup, book and doorknob was warm with his fingerprints. I even looked for his hairs in the brush.
I brought his pillow slowly up to my face and took a deep breath. Then small, quick sniffs. There wasn’t any smell. His cologne, shampoo, his sweat was already gone. Not even a trace. It smelled like week-old laundry. And I cried into the pillow. Screamed. Slobbered. Surrendered.
Scared and alone, I finally passed out again as the night came down through the soft, white curtains just above my head.
Lost In Thought by Lillian Maggio
I buried my head under the pillow as soon as my mother walked out. I tried to think about something, anything other than Dad. I tried to think about books I’d read, or even stories I’d made up in my own mind. I thought about TV shows, and videos, almost anything. But he was always there, at the back of everything.
I was just about to drift off to soundless sleep when I heard it: my own heartbeat. My lobe folded up inside the opening of my ear and intensified the pulse. Loud and clear. I listened to it, the constant noise. One more thing to keep my mind off of the past four days. But then the memory came.
I remembered hearing my own heartbeat before, when I had come home crying one day after school. I had run to my dad on the couch and leaned my head on his shoulder. He had comforted me, and we had simply sat there for a while, saying nothing at all. And I thought about him. His death. The funeral.
I hated the funeral. Everybody said the same thing:
He’s not really gone if you remember him.
Everything will be alright.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
Another angel for heaven.
They had no idea what it was like to have your entire life just explode. They would never understand.
I rolled over. I couldn’t just lay there and do nothing. When I was sure Mom and Grandma were nowhere near, I hopped out of bed and went straight to my desk. Everything was the same as it had been just last week. Before everything changed. Before.
I couldn’t keep thinking about that. I reached for my sketchbook, which was at least half-full of doodles and drawings. I put my pencil to paper. Nothing happened. There was nothing. Nothing but shock and fear and sadness. In anger, I broke the pencil against the paper and threw the book at my desk. It collided with my laptop.
You’re so stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
I stomped. Hard. On the floor, to make my point. I banged my head against my palm before flopping back onto my bed, fuming. And I began to cry. The tears were so unexpected, I sat straight up and blinked twice. I wiped them away with my sleeve.
I am not a baby. I am not a baby.
I finally started thinking about something else. I am a tragedy.
The kids at school would have false sympathy for me. They would suddenly all become my friends when they realized it wasn’t funny to tease me. I would hate that. I wanted them all to keep bullying me. I just wanted them to be honest, for once. I didn’t want to be lied to.
Was I lying to myself this whole time?
I played each day away in my own little world, scared to come down to reality. But not this time. This was real. I couldn’t escape to my own fantasy ever again. Not after this.
And I found that I couldn’t think about anything else but him. I was stuck. I was lost.