(I’ve not come up with a title for this story. Suggestions?)
Anniversaries should be joyful, however; counting the days by the number of tears I’ve shed since I lost my husband has made this particular anniversary one that I dread. My husband has been dead for three years. On this hot, muggy summer day, I sit here on this stone bench remembering him as a vital, healthy, strong man. I choose not to remember him as he was during his final days, lying in that hospital bed, frail and broken and breathing his last breaths. The accident happened so quickly, so unexpectedly. One minute we were making plans for our vacation, the next minute I’m planning a funeral. It simply isn’t fair. I am lost and confused. I myself feel broken and frail yet on the verge of some kind of awakening. There have been days where I simply felt I wouldn’t make it, but I did. Life goes on whether we want it to or not. We move forward. Looking back we don’t always understand how we made it, but the fact is we do. I’ve come to believe there are angels watching out for us.
The first year after I lost him I just went through the motions of living. Nothing I did meant anything. The house was always so quiet, so incredibly lonely. At night, as I lay in our bed alone, it felt so cold. It was impossible to get warm. People, having the best of intentions, constantly checked on me, offering their condolences, always wanting to help and offer support but if I’m being honest, I didn’t want their help. I simply wanted to be left alone to grieve in my own way. And I did. I played our favorite records on an old phonograph. We loved to dance to big band songs. We laughed as we danced around our living room and what fun we had! Sometimes at night, I’d pour myself a glass of our favorite wine, sit by the fire place and look through our photo albums. We never had children and that was okay. We never felt incomplete and we shared some incredible moments together that were ours…times that belonged only to us. I’d pray to God to just help me get past this terrible emptiness; help me understand why my partner in life had to leave so soon. I still have no answers but over time, I began to realize that my husband would not want me to grieve for him forever. He would want me to be happy, to find peace, to get on with my life. Eventually, the heartache got a bit easier to deal with. I don’t believe my heart will ever be fully mended but I now believe that I can be happy again.
Seven months ago, while buying flowers for my husband’s grave, I met a man. It seems the owner of the flower shop I frequented had sold the business and on this particular day, the new owner was at the shop. As I walked in and looked up at him, I was taken aback by his brilliant green eyes. It seemed as if they bore through me as I placed my order for calla lilies, the flowers I carried on my wedding day. As he handed me my change and lightly brushed my fingertips with his own, I felt a connection to this man that frightened me to my core. I felt it would be impossible for me to ever love again and I had, by that time, completely shut myself off from the idea of a new relationship. I can find happiness alone and had long ago decided I simply would not disrespect my husband by allowing another man to be a part of my life. Quickly, I snatched the bouquet from this man, this stranger who had somehow briefly and unexplainably touched my soul, and walked out.
I live in a small, rural town in South Georgia. This flower shop is all we have. I could go buy flowers from our local grocery store, but it seems necessary that I have calla lilies and because they are only available at the flower shop, I’ve had no choice but to get my arrangements from there. Unlike the previous owner, the new man in town is always in the store. He seems to take pride in this business and with every visit our conversations have gotten a bit livelier. He always greets me with a warm hello, a bright smile and seems to constantly have a joke on hand to make me laugh. I’ve yet to tell him of my husband and I’ve not taken off my wedding band. He hasn’t asked why I buy the same flowers each time and I haven’t felt the need to explain myself, but as of late, I’ve felt us getting closer. It is not at all a completely uncomfortable feeling.
The guilt! Am I actually letting another man in my life? I promised myself I would not do this but must also be honest and admit that I miss being close to someone. I have girlfriends, most of whom are life-long friends, but they don’t make up for that feeling of having a special man in my life. I stay busy enough with work, my writing and my music but at night, when I crawl into bed the loneliness is overwhelming. I miss having someone to hold on to.
As is my ritual with every cemetery visit, I buy extra flowers to place on the graves of those that seem a bit neglected. I buy bright yellow daisies to share. They’ve always seemed so cheerful to me. As I’m walking, I notice a women kneeling on the ground in front of an incredibly old and worn tombstone. There are no flowers and she is weeping so I decide to walk over to her and give her a daisy. As I approach her, she turns her head towards me, stands up, brushes off her skirt and nods. “Hello. I hope I’m not intruding but I am here visiting my husband’s grave and noticed you here alone and upset. I thought I’d bring you a daisy to cheer you,” I said. Reaching out to take the flower, a small smile spreads across her face and she thanks me. I look down to read the tombstone and can barely make out a man’s name. His death date is clear though and I can see he passed on the same day as my husband but many years earlier. I am so surprised by the date that I share with her the fact that my loved one also died on this day. She looks at me and asks, “How did your husband die, dear?” So I tell her of the fatal accident that took him away. I found myself spilling my soul to this stranger, letting go of everything I’ve held in for so long. Nodding her head, she reaches out to take my hand and says, “I see that you are still hurting and you are confused. Know that this pain will lessen as time goes by. I understand you may still feel raw and not ready to let someone new in your life, but there is someone out there waiting to fill a void and make a place in your life. He will be the one you will spend the rest of your life with, the one you can always count on, a man you can trust and love whole- heartedly without fear of being hurt. He can never replace your husband but he will help you find the peace you so richly deserve. You know him already. Don’t let him get away. He’s standing right over there waiting for you.” She points behind me and stunned by her words, I turn around to see him – the man from the flower shop. Still in shock, I begin to walk towards him, then realize I must say something to this woman – thank her? I don’t know what to say but I turn back to speak to her and she’s gone. On the ground, on top of the grave, lays the daisy I’d given her just moments ago.