I drove by your building a hundred thousand times and never once noticed it. Why would I? Death is what happens to other people. And when you have young children, mortality is the last thing on your mind. Instead, we’re focused on young life and the promise of a bright and vibrant future.
So, when I heard that dreaded tap on the front door, everything in my world turned upside down and inside out. I saw two strangers: one dressed in a finely pressed suit and tie, the other a formal dress.
Although a river of tears blurred your faces, I sensed your soft smiles. I don’t remember what you said – I only remember the sinking feeling of existential pain.
You reverently went about your work. I’ll never forget how you placed Mitchell’s favorite blanket over his chest as if to soften the blow of our son’s passing. I would have never thought to do such a thing – but it was a little salve for my gashing wound. A wound as vast as the Grand Canyon that would take years to dress and suture. Years to heal.
You whispered as you coordinated, transferring my son from his bed to a gurney. Suddenly, I watched two strangers roll my sweet boy into the dark, bitter winter’s air. I was mortified. Incredulous. I was just talking to Mitch the day before, and he was very much alive, so sweet, tender, and innocent. As you loaded my boy into the back of the vehicle and drove away, panic shot through my body, tears rolled down my cheeks, and began to freeze.
I physically gasped for air as though I was watching my child in the act of being kidnapped. My mind knew what was happening, but my weary heart couldn’t keep up.
As you drove away, every part of me wanted to run down the street and stop you. I wanted to say, “Please, let me get in the back with my boy. He must be so scared, cold, and lonely. I need to comfort him during this difficult time.”
I cannot conjure the words to describe the trauma I experienced at this moment – and the subsequent traumas of grief I felt a million times thereafter.
I wept so hard I threw up. Then, I wept even harder, and I thought I broke a rib. Although the sun was rising that morning, our dark night of the soul was only just beginning.
It wasn’t until mid-morning when I returned to Mitchell’s room and noticed you left a single white rose on our son’s pillow. When I saw that gesture of compassion, I immediately fell to my knees and wept again.
Twenty-four hours would pass before we walked into your building – a place hiding in plain sight until then. Hands trembling and voices shaking, we fumbled over product catalogs and display rooms offering products we desperately didn’t want to think about, let alone purchase. You were kind and gave us all the time and space we needed.
I’ll never forget the startling sobriety about life we felt as we walked through your long room with caskets on display.
The world became infinitesimally small, and the meaning of life towering. Monumental.
A few more days would pass before we returned to your place to dress our son.
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