I stared up at the many stairs which lead into the church where Mark and I had been married just four years ago. They were worn and seemed as though thousands of pairs of feet had trampled on the stone on their way to various masses. Holding my daughter closer to me, I began to ascend the stairs. Ella had no knowledge of where she was, being fast asleep and wrapped in a knit blanket that she had carried around everywhere since the day she could walk.
Sigh. I had made it to the top of the stairs. Ella had not woken up - yet. It was barely two days ago since I had told her that she would never see her Daddy again, that he could never read her a bed time story before she went to sleep.
Naturally, her first response was, "Why mummy, why?" and to that I couldnít come up a logical response. Me a down-to-earth person who believed there was a reason to everything, a logical explanation, for once, found something I couldn not explain.
"Because heís in heaven, sweetie."
"Where?" she asked, her dark brown eyes in a pool of confusion, her face a picture of innocence.
"Heaven. Thatís where people go when they die." and these words coming from me, a person who wasnít religious and hardly ever went to church. How ironic.
"Is my Daddy dead?" Ella asked, her big, brown beautiful eyes looked up at me sadly.
"Yes honey, he is."
That was how the conversation had ended. I had now entered the church and noticed that it didnít look much different from that afternoon in April. Looking up at a carving which showed Jesus Christ hung on the cross between two thieves, I sat down slowly on a pew in the back corner, cradling Ella in my arms as she slept. She looked so peaceful, too young to understand much more than, "Daddyís not going to be around anymore." and; "Heís gone to a beautiful place up in the sky with the angels."
Turning my head, I saw another statue. This one much, much larger and had many vases filled with flowers surrounding it. It was of Mary, holding her son in her arms. His face pale with death, hands, feet and side pierced; bloody water pouring out. But what struck me most was his mother. Tears were welling up behind her eyes, one already fallen. I hadnít been able to do that. Cry, that is. I had no words to describe my feelings. When Rachel had arrived, she wept as soon as she saw me. Even then, I couldnít squeeze out a drop. It wasnít until I glanced around the church, my eyes wondering towards the altar with the statue still pictured deeply in my mind, that the first tear came...
I was just planning to put out all the candles in the main part of the church when I noticed a poor soul sitting quietly at the back pew. If it wasnít for how quietly she sat, I wouldnít have cared. People come into the church at all times and this night would be no different. However, she was shaking. Even with the thick coat she had on and the blanket in her lap, she was shivering. Or, I thought to myself, she was crying.
I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around and saw Father Peter, the same priest that had married Mark and I standing a few feet away. Immediately, I held Ella closer and stood up as fast as I could.
"Iím sorry, I was just on my way," I said, trying to wipe my eyes on the sleeve of my coat. Ella had woken up and was rubbing her eyes wearily.
"No, itís okay," he said kindly. "Would you join me for a cup of tea or coffee?"
I nodded and followed the Father out of the church and into his residence in silence, gently rocking Ella back to sleep.
"I think weíve met before," he said gently. His voice seemed almost too soft for the wide broad shoulders and the aging face, the wrinkles more prominent since the last time she had seen him.
The priest sat down on his comfy leather desk chair and handed me a warm cup of tea, the scent of the leaves sweeping me into a sense of calm and stability that I hadnít felt for months.
"Yes, you married my husband and I about four years ago," I answered. My throat felt scratchy and tired from sobs I had tried unsuccessfully to contain. I sipped at the tea, feeling it wash down my throat, and calming me down almost instantly.
Father Peter thought for a minute before continuing with a smile. "Ah, yes! You were the doctor couple. How could I have forgotten?"
I bowed my head at the joyous tones that emitted from the manís now happy face.
"And how is Dr Greene doing? Shame he isnít here."
ĎYou donít know how close to the truth you are.í I cleared my throat of phlegm and continued with the news that I knew I must deliver. "He passed away. Yesterday morning, actually."
The Father almost immediately took on a serious expression, worry lines creased his already worn forehead. He thought for a minute or two and I relished in the silence, waiting to see what condolences he would offer. They were all the same. Sorry this and sorry that. I couldnít believe how heartless those words sounded, although I had said them myself a few thousand times to a deceased patients family or friends. Yet when I had thought about it, properly, I realized that there really wasnít anything that anyone could say. The pain would always be there. The loss and hardship of times ahead with out the one you loved.
Everytime someone said something, anything at all, it would remind me of Mark. A joke, a kind word, condolences for my loss, all of it just reminded me that I had just lived another second, minute or hour without him being on this planet with me. Each memory was like a blow to the heart. Sometimes I thought people were doing it to spite me, to see if they could torture me further.
"I certainly remember him. I hope the years youíve had with him were happy times and that one day, you shall meet him again."
I looked up sharply. So far, in the thirty-five or so hours since Mark had left me, not one person had not offered their apologies. Not one.
"I, I hadnít expected you to say that."
"What did you expect me to say?" he asked with a soft smile, his lips barely turned up at the corners, the silvery gray eye brows raised.
"I donít know, itís just, everyone seems to be saying sorry."
"His death, my loss... I really donít know. When I think about it, they have nothing to be sorry for."
"True," said the wise priest, choosing his next words carefully. "By the amount of people attending the wedding as I recall, you had quiet a large number of friends attending, and also a large number not being able to attend."
Elizabeth nodded. "Theyíve lost something too and Iíve realized that."
"How are you dealing with it?" asked Father Peter, deciding that a change of topic was needed.
"Realistically? I donít know. Everything still reminds me of him, I canít seem to forget and yet I donít want to. Iím afraid that Iíll lose whatever memories that I do have but some are too painful to revisit. I wonder what Iím going to do with my life now that heís not here." I whispered, looking down at Ella who had once more fallen asleep, too tired from what the day had held.
"Youíll survive," Father Peter said knowingly. "I see you have much faith, yet donít know it."
"I donít think Iíve every really had faith in anything. Especially in myself."
"Oh, you do. Everyone has at least that tiny drop of it in their heart somewhere. All they have to do is find it, then itís all theirs. Depending on how they use it, it will bring them what is most wanted."
"This doesnít sound easy," I said, trying my best to soak in the words of wisdom I was receiving.
"It isnít easy but itís there. Trust in God, Elizabeth."
As though that had been my final dismissal, that I had no reason to be there any longer I stood up, carefully making sure that Ella was still snuggled in my arms. My arms ached with the weight of carring a three year old child, but at this point in time, I didnít see how I could let her go.
With a nod and a quiet thank you, I left the warm, homey room and watched as Father Peter closed the door behind me, a slightly pensive smile on his face.