I stood in the small church, supported by the prayers of loved ones, mantled with the soulful whine of the church organ playing its dirge of death. I felt a separation of mind and body. Someone was standing here, but it couldn't be me. The smell of incense permeated my senses, overwhelming with its cloying scent. Next to me, covered with a shroud, stood the casket of my child. I would not look at it, could not.
The words of the priest droned on and on, completing the Mass, and the ceremony finally drew to a close, but I was lost in a sea of unrelated thought. I heard nothing; I felt nothing, except a desire to be done with this, to be free to face my grief alone.
It was over at last. We walked, my family and I, down the endless aisle of concerned, tear streaked faces, united in a mélange of emotion, following the one who would never again walk among us. Then out into the overcast day, whose sun had the dignity not to shine, we entered the limousines and headed for the cemetery to say our final goodbye.
The ride to the cemetery was torturously slow. We climbed the long winding mountain road to the top of the cemetery, surrounded by grotesquely beautiful tombstones, the only proof of former lives.
Surely this was just a dream. I would awaken soon and rebuke the nightmare that enveloped my senses, sighing with relief. Oh God, please let this be a dream. But no, the grass was too lushly green. Tear shaped droplets of rain hung precariously from misted, succulent leaves. The dark gray clouds swirling in anger as the sun tried vainly to push them aside in a futile effort to dominate the day, were too real. Yes, this was actually happening.
There were over a hundred people standing behind me; their silence bearing down upon me like the crush of ocean waves. I fought the compulsion to slide into oblivion and let this travesty proceed without me.
There was a small crucifix on top of the darkly ominous box which was now my daughter's residence. I tried to focus on that one object in an effort to retain my sanity. The voice of the priest, overflowing with empathy, broke the silence with, I was told later, a moving and beautiful eulogy. His words rained down over me, covering me with compassionate warmth, but I comprehended no meaning. Closing my mind to everything around me, the box and I stood alone together in the macabre stillness of a lonely mountain top, whose residents, except for birds and trees, were all stone cold and unfeeling.
There was no life here, not even serenity, just the vacuous emptiness of space and time, devoid of animation. What a cruel, unlikely place to leave one who was so vivacious, so seething with spirit, so very much alive. I had to leave this place. My daughter was not here.
After the funeral, our family unit was forever altered. Yet life went on and swept us along; children had to be fed and cared for, careers had to be maintained.
The ten-day wait in the Intensive Care Unit was over. Family, neighbors and friends moved on with their own lives and we were forced to continue ours, in spite of the gaping hole left by the absence of Noelle. There would be no more hovering by her bedside, praying for the miracle that would heal her severed spinal cord; broken by the thoughtless drunk driver who struck her down in broad daylight miracle that was not meant to be. Noelle's fourteen years of life were over and her two brothers, three sisters, her father and I had to somehow face the future without the child who had lit up our lives and had given us constant pleasure.
The other children reacted in different ways. One became bulimic and suicidal, another, anxious and panic stricken. Yet another raced his car at high speeds, defying death to take him too, while his brother became withdrawn, depressed and barely spoke. Our oldest child, at twenty one, left home to deal with her grief away from us; we caused her too much pain.
Two years later, our oldest daughter had married and was bearing her first‑born child. She had a long and life threatening labor and did not, nor did the rest of us, notice that when she finally brought her son into the world--it was on the day that Noelle died. Upon realizing this, she was horrified and sobbed as she lay in recovery. The rest of us were equally appalled and awe‑struck by what by what we perceived to be one of life's cruel ironies.
And then the miracle happened. During the next few years the tragic day that claimed the life of Noelle became, instead, the birthday of a beautiful little boy. Noelle had somehow sent us the gift of healing. Today, as we continue to celebrate that day, our grief is temporarily put aside, and the memories of Noelle have become sweet, bittersweet, yet softened by the little boy born on the date she died. This, we believe, was Noelle's way of assuring us that her soul was alive and well, her way of easing our grief--her legacy of love.