For some reason, I woke up Friday morning feeling better. Lighter than I had in days. I don't know why, especially considering the visitation/viewing was that night. As the day wore on at work, I became more and more anxious. Knowing what I was going to have to face. My first best friend would be there. Lying in a casket. For everyone to see.
When we got there my eyes were immediately drawn to him. I forced myself not to look. Pretend he wasn't lying there, feet away from me. I concentrated on his mourning family. On his Mom, who was hugging everyone. Almost like she was comforting them as they wept into her shoulder. I hugged her for the first time in years, and told her I loved her, too. We sat down near the back and I couldn't tear my eyes away from his Mother. Leaning over the casket and what I imagined to be her straightening his clothes. Smoothing his hair. I tried to imagine what it would be like for me if I was in her shoes, and I couldn't even begin to.
We eventually sat with his older sister. We talked and laughed and remembered. And I thought I'd be okay. I was at ease with her and our memories. I was able to unclench my jaw for the first time all night. His Mom sat down to take a break from all the well wishing mourners, so I got up to tell her good bye. I hugged the family and walked out. I was feet away from my car when I stopped.
I have always said I will never understand why people choose to have an open casket. Why would you want your last memory of someone to be them, a shell of their former selves, lying in a box? But I stopped. Something was tugging at me. I had a sudden overwhelming urge to see him. To say good bye. I turned around and headed back inside, straight for him. I don't think anyone saw me. My Mom and Sister were still there in the front row, with all of his family. But I don't think they saw me.
I walked right up to him. It didn't look like him. Not the boy I remember. Where was the crooked grin? But it was him. Those were definitely his hands. I told him I loved him. And good bye. And just stood there for a moment wondering if there was anything else I should say. There wasn't. I turned and practically ran out managed to choke out a "bye" to his brother who passed me on the way out. I got to my car and lost it. I cried. Hard. All the way home.
When I got home I went straight for my room. Austin followed and I was finally able to put it into words.
"I just loved him a lot".
And that was the truth of it. No more or less.
I finally got it all out and I was a much better person after. I felt better about going to the funeral, which was today. I was confident that I would be able to make it through okay. And I did. The service was nice and his sister put together an amazing slide show. So many familiar pictures of the little boy I remembered. Even some of him in the Rainbows shirt my Mom made us. We drove from the funeral home to the cemetery and witnessed the most touching scene of the entire service.
Chad's step father is a tow truck driver. Has been since I've known him. He owns his own towing company here in town. When we left the church, what looked like trucks from every towing company in town flanked us from the front, backs and sides. The were our escorts. For some reason in this town, police do not provide escorts for funeral processionals. Also in this town, people don't realize when a processional is driving through, you're supposed to get out of the way and let everyone pass. The trucks took care of that.
They zoomed all around us, blocking every single intersection so that everyone could pass through together. Even blocking the entrance and exit ramps on the interstate. It was amazing. We laughed when other cars honked in fury and cheered them on, thinking about how much Chad would have loved this. When we got the to cemetery, we rolled down our windows and told them how amazing they were and thanked them so much. I think it touched all of us tremendously.
The graveside service was short and sweet. We said our good byes to the family and my Mom promised his Mom she'd be there bright and early Monday morning to make sure she was out of bed and okay. My sister and I placed flowers on his casket. And we left. I couldn't help thinking that's it. But it's not really. Not for his family who will be mourning for a while. Maybe forever, even if it's not as obvious. I'll always love him. I'll always think about the fun we had and the bond we shared.
I guess in the end the only thing left to do is remember and be thankful for the time we had with him, instead of mourning the time that was lost.