Please don’t let us be late, I prayed, remembering how rushed and off-kilter I felt when we had all come together for the funeral. This was more of a celebration than a somber goodbye, but there was still a heaviness to the occasion that I had sensed even was we prepared the memorial garden. That morning, his twenty-third birthday, a fishing derby was held in his honor; I had originally planned on casting a line, but gave into the fears of getting hooked (literally) and my lack of patience that often accompanies it. I found more comfort in observing the soon-to-be dedicated patch of land and reminiscing on memories of Connor and our shared childhood gone by.
My family and I found seats underneath the small pavilion as musicians began to play a rendition Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here.” I’d heard it at Country Thunder a month before, the last place (and eerily the last day) that I’d seen Connor before the accident. I held a wad of Kleenex and my mom’s hand as the floodgates opened up rather freely throughout the ceremony, my heart breaking all over again hearing poignant words from my brother, his sister, and especially his mother. Perhaps for the first time since I got the news, I wept out of anger more than sorrow. Rest assured, I was in no way angry at them or even at God. If nothing else, I was pissed off at the world; a world that had only paused momentarily last year to remember a beautiful person. A world that kept trying to tell me in one way or another that supposedly it was time to stop grieving. A world that seemed to go on as life hadn’t changed, and yet so many of our lives had changed irrevocably. I wanted to scream at the world to go stick it where it hurts, and am tempted to do so now at its indifference toward tragedy, disaster, and injustice. But that’s for another time.
The gathering came to a close with a take on Eric Church, whose music I love for a number of reasons, but will hold a special place in my heart because it was Connor’s last concert. I let go of any embarrassment about crying in public a long time ago; I don’t always see tears or weeping as indications of sadness, but rather a sense of depth to feelings that have no explanation. I feel deeply, and I love deeply.
Most recently, a popular blogger and pastor described it as the grieving one does after the funeral. The heaviness might lift after a while, yet the heartache still remains in the shadows of every-day life, ready to hit you in the most unexpected way at perhaps the most inopportune times. However, I’ve learned not to be afraid of those moments, to embrace them as they come and let them teach me what they need to. If a song comes up on the radio that sparks a memory, I’ll listen to it. I genuinely enjoy talking about knowing Connor and growing up in the backwoods of suburbia when it’s appropriate, because of how it has shaped me both as a kid and an adult. I’m grateful for the memorial garden, a place that I can come back to when I’ll no longer be able to come back to the house that I was raised in.
I find peace in knowing that his family is my family, that I will forever be connected to them and others through the life and memory of an amazing man. I hold close the traditions we’ve created to celebrate him, and those we’ll create in the future. To some it seems morbid, or refusing to let go, but for me it’s a way to create beauty out of something beyond tragic.
I cry. I reminisce. I write. I pray. Grief teaches you so many things, many of which are talked about in the most cliché ways. But if nothing else, the last year has taught me to lean in and be fully present, even the midst of a weird combination that is both pain and joy.
Yes, he should be here. And while not in the way any of us would want him to be, I believe that he is.