Authors: Megan Nugen Isbell
She glanced around the church quickly. She recognized high school classmates and teachers, friends they’d made at college, and of course Ben’s entire family. It made her happy to know so many people had loved and cared about him, but at the same time she wanted them all to disappear.
She sat quietly next to her mother. Val sat on her other side and as the priest came to the pulpit, each of her hands was taken by the two women next to her. She squeezed them tightly as the service started. It began with a prayer and scripture and after the mass, the priest turned the pulpit over to share memories and stories of Ben. Luke was the first to step out front. As he
stood before the podium, Kathryn was once again struck by the physical similarities Luke shared with Ben and found herself mesmerized as he spoke.
“Ben was…” and then he cleared his throat and corrected himself. “Ben
my older brother. I couldn’t have asked for a better example. Actually sometimes I wish he hadn’t been such a good example…it made it hard to keep up with him,” Luke said with a slight laugh, joined by the gentle laughter of the congregation. “He was always there for me, bailing me out, taking the blame for everything to keep me and Allie out of trouble. We had our differences too, but no matter what, he was always there for me. I’d hoped to return the favor someday, and I still can’t believe he’s gone and I won’t get the chance to do any of that. I never imagined I’d have to write a speech for my brother’s funeral before getting to write the speech as his best man.” As he said this, Kathryn felt her mom’s arm wrap around her and pull her close. “I thought about that sometimes because we all knew he and Kathryn would eventually get married,” he said glancing towards Kathryn with sad eyes. As he said the words, her heart seemed to break even more. Watching the whole scenario playing out, it finally hit her that she was really here at Ben’s funeral. It was really happening and he was never coming back. She’d always imagined standing with him in this church side by side as they said their marriage vows, not attending his funeral. She looked down at the engagement ring once again and her eyes filled with tears, but she took a deep breath and continued listening to Luke. “If I had had the chance I would have told him I know he would’ve had a great life with Kathryn. I would have wished him luck, but I don’t get to say that. Instead of getting to toast to his future, I have to say farewell to my brother,” Luke said, his voice cracking. He put his hand to his mouth and took a deep breath before continuing. “My brother is an amazing person and I love him. I’m not sure if I ever really told him that and I regret that now. It’s only been a few days, but I miss him so much already. If ever anyone deserved to go to Heaven, it was Ben and I know he’s watching down over us. And…” but Luke couldn’t continue. He looked away from the crowd, too choked up to say anything else. He walked away from the microphone and stepped over to the casket. He slowly placed his hand on top of it and then leaned down and whispered something Kathryn was unable to hear and then he quickly retreated back to his seat, where his mother embraced him tightly.
As the parade of people began sharing their best memories of Ben, Kathryn sat stoically. She was certain she knew all there was to know about him, but she found herself learning new things,
which surprised her. Although the stories were different, it was obvious everyone had loved him and she suddenly wanted everyone to know that she had loved him too, more than any of them. She hadn’t planned to speak, but she knew she had to.
She slowly stood up and made her way to the pulpit. A quiet hush filled the church once they realized she was taking the stage. To those who truly knew Ben, knew that Kathryn had been his constant co
mpanion, and while they weren’t technically family, everyone knew she had lost the love of her life.
Once in front of the microphone, Kathryn panned the crowd of old and new faces. Ben’s family, the only ones
who really mattered, were staring intently at her. She met Sharon’s eyes and she seemed to smile encouragingly at her, anxious to hear what Kathryn had to say about her son.
“Hello everyone,” she began softly. “I didn’t think I would speak today, but after hearing all of the stories about Ben, I needed to share mine. I met him
my junior year. My family had just moved to Westerly from New Hampshire and I didn’t know anyone. I had a couple of classes with Ben and I felt a connection to him the moment I met him. Then he asked me to the winter ball and that was it. I’m pretty sure I fell in love with him that night. I never expected to fall in love with my soul mate when I was sixteen, but it happened. Everyone in this room loved Ben for different reasons. My reason is simple. I loved Ben because he made me a better person and because he loved me. He loved me unconditionally and always, no matter what my mood was and no matter what I said or did. He always forgave me and he always loved me. I still can’t believe this is really happening. He just proposed a few days ago and now he’s gone. I can’t believe he’s gone and I miss him,” Kathryn said, tears beginning to fall freely from her eyes as she attempted to continue speaking through the painful lump in her throat. “I miss him so much and I just want you all to know how much I love him,” she said, becoming short of breath as she began sobbing harder. Once again, her knees grew weak and she braced herself on the podium. Even though the swelling of tears had blurred her vision, she could see everyone in the audience was looking away from her. It seemed no one wanted to look at her and she suddenly wanted to get away from the spotlight and go back into hiding. She quickly turned to walk away from the podium, but she stumbled on a fold in the rug and she felt herself falling to the ground. As she lay on the soft red carpet she wanted to curl up and die.
She tried pushing herself up, but her arms felt too weak. The stress of the last week had finally taken its toll. Her mind had already given up and now her body was too. She closed her eyes and tried again, and then felt th
e familiar support of Luke at her side, there to help her once more. He assisted her to her feet, but instead of taking her to sit back down with the family, he led her out of the side door and into a vacant hall. He sat her down on a small white couch and held her as she continued to sob. She could feel his chest heaving too and she could hear the light whimpers he was trying to hold back.
“Thank you,” Kathryn finally said a few minutes later when she was under control. “I felt like such an idiot up there.”
“You didn’t sound like an idiot,” he assured her.
“I couldn’t stand it in there another minute. I just miss him so much.”
“I miss him too,” he said quietly and then paused for a few moments before continuing. “And I meant what I said up there about you and him. He really did love you.”
“I know he did.”
“No…he truly loved you. You should’ve seen how excited he was when he told me he was going to ask you to marry him. I’ve never seen him like that.I just want you to know that because I don’t want you to ever have any doubts.”
Kathryn knew Ben loved her, she had no doubt about that, but for some reason, hearing it from Luke solidified it in a way she’d never felt before. Her eyes panned up from where she was staring at the beige carpet and met Luke’s eyes…so much like Ben’s.
“He loved you too Luke, even if he didn’t always show it. He thought the world of you. He couldn’t wait for you and Allie to join us at URI next year. He was really looking forward to that.”
He smiled and his eyes drifted off, obviously thinking about his brother. She leaned into him again, taking notice and relishing in the similarities between Luke and Ben. For a moment, she felt like she was in Ben’s arms again and the world felt right.
“If you ever need anything just know that our whole family is here for you. Just because Ben’s no longer here doesn’t mean we want you to go away too. We don’t want to lose you also.”
“Thank you. If
ever need anything let me know,” she said and their eyes met again, binding their promise.
“Are you ready to go back in?” he asked her.
She nodded and side by side they returned to the chapel.
As if the funeral wasn’t surreal enough, she still had the graveside service to get through. She had packed into one of the limousines provided by Stanson’s. The only other time she’d been in a limo was on the way to the prom with Ben and she couldn’t help her mind from drifting to that happy time. She sat between Luke and Allie and no one said a word during the procession to the cemetery. The car soon drove under the stone archway leading into the grassy fields lined with rows and rows of granite tombstones. Luke opened the door silently and everyone began piling out. The crowd had already begun to gather, but she spotted her parents and walked over to them. A few rows of chairs had been set up under a canopy. Kathryn sat down in one of them between her parents. The crowd began to grow until all she could see was a mass of people. A violin was playing quietly in the background, the hymns creating a sadness in the air that seemed to draw tears to everyone’s eyes.
Suddenly, her mother grabbed her hand and held it tightly. Kathryn looked over towards the hearse and her heart sped up as she saw Ben’s casket being carried towards the grave. Scott, Grandpa Dom, and Luke, along with three of Ben’s cousins she didn’t know very well, were holding onto Ben and bringing him to his final resting place. They all stood proudly, doing their best to hold it together and give Ben the dignity he deserved. They walked with purpose and diligence as everyone’s eyes followed them. They gently set the casket down on the metal supporters above the concrete hole Ben would soon be entombed in. Kathryn’s eyes fixated on the darkness below the coffin and she shuddered at the thought of Ben being lowered inside.
Once the casket was secure, the pallbearers let go and took their seats. The violin music stopped and the priest stood in front of the crowd and began to pray. She closed her eyes, trying to tune everything out. She’d had enough of this already. She couldn’t bear to drag this out any longer, putting on a show, trying to hold herself together, when all she wanted to do was hide away from the world and this horrible new reality. Ben was gone and there was nothing that was going to change that. Why did she have to sit here and have it reinforced over and over like someone hitting her over the head repeatedly? Instead of being able to sit back and savor the memories and happy times with Ben, she had to sit front and center for his departure knowing full well she would never see him again, being reminded over and over that the life he’d promised her would never happen.
When the priest said the final amen, Kathryn was shocked back into the moment and realized she’d missed every word of the short service and the crowd was beginning to envelope her. She stood numbly as people hugged her and offered their condolences, each face blurring into one until she couldn’t recognize anyone anymore.
I’m so sorry Kathryn…Ben was such a great guy…I’m so sorry Kathryn….If there’s anything you need, please let me know….I’m so sorry Kathryn…”
the voices kept echoing in her ears until she could no longer take it. In the middle of the receiving line, she simply walked away.
The heels of her shoes kept sinking into the dry ground as she trudged through the dead grass over the graves of strangers until she found a large oak tree to hide beh
ind. She leaned against it, ignoring the rough bark that poked through her dress into her back. As she slid down the tree, she could feel it leaving swollen red tracks down her back until she was huddled on the ground, her knees tucked to her chest. Once her head was buried into the darkness of her arms that were wrapped around her legs, the tears began to flow. As the tears came harder her mind seemed to drift from her body. She still couldn’t accept this was happening. She prayed, just as she had for the past five days, that any moment now she would wake up from this nightmare and her life would be normal again. But the nightmare kept getting worse with each new scene unfolding. First the hospital, then the funeral home and service. And now at the graveside it appeared the curtain would be falling on the final act and she would not wake up. This was not a dream.
The gentle touch of a hand on her shoulder drew her mind back and she looked up through swollen eyes. Luke stood above her, a black silhouette against the sun. He crouched down next to her and put his arm around her.
“I couldn’t stand it another minute,” she said to him.
neither. I saw you take off and wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“Of course I’m not okay!” she snipped at him.
“I know that,” Luke stuttered. “I just…I wanted,” he began, but then faded off.
“I’m sorry. I know what you meant. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”
“It’s okay,” he said quietly and their eyes met.
“I just keep thinking this is all a nightmare and that any second now I’m going to wake up, but…I’m not going to wake up. This is it. This is happening. He’s not coming back. Do you realize he’s not coming back? He’s in that box and that’s where he’s staying.”
Luke tore his gaze from her and looked at the ground.
“I mean…what am I going to do?” Kathryn continued as her words t
urned frantic and hurried. “He’s supposed to be here. He was always supposed to be here. We were supposed to get married. He was always part of the plan. It wasn’t ever an option. Wherever I went, Ben would be there, but now…he’s left me. How could he just leave me here?”