A long black line of rented funeral limousines snaked down Peoria’s main street past well manicured suburban lawns and through Black wastelands as it inched its way towards the town’s business section and past WKXR TV Peoria to Lake Lawn Cemetery. There The Right Reverend Vincent Carlisle recited the funeral prayers over Sam’s body as it lay in the sleek black coffin with its gold encrusted angels on all four corners. A funeral spray of white Liles of the Valley covered its top. The day was clear and sunny, with a biting cold wind.
David had been opposed to the chosen route, but I had insisted. No matter what the people of this town thought of us as a couple, Sam had been good to this town. I felt this was the only way to honor my husband while serving as a reminder to the town, and to myself, of what we both had lost. This town – its sights, its sounds, and its people, had all been a part of my life with Sam. Now that life was over. This, I had thought at the time, was my good bye ride. A part of me had always known I’d eventually say goodbye to Peoria.
For some reason, I fixated on the image of Coretta Scott King at Dr. King’s funeral. I wanted to show that same regalness and forbearance she’d shown. I wanted to be that essence of dignity which she was. However, my eyes obeyed my heart and not my head. They were red and swollen from crying and instead of looking like the essence of dignity, I looked like the essence of grief.
The last thing I wanted was to wake up the next morning and be greeted by video of those red swollen eyes on TV or see pictures of them splashed across the newspapers.
I remember David had to help me from the limo. The funeral service was bad enough with the body of my dead husband stretched out before me. But now what was being demanded of me was beyond all reason. I was being asked to abandon all hope that this was some sort of weird cosmic mistake. My husband was dead. No, that couldn’t be. Where was the body? Maybe he hadn’t gotten on the plane. Or maybe he was lying somewhere in a coma and no one knew who he was. There was still hope. But if I did this thing, it was like giving up.
David stuck his head in the limo and called by name again. There was such pity in his eyes. How could he – How had he endured this?
I wanted to scream. I wanted to slam the door shut and demand that the driver drive away as fast as he could. David called my name again. Our eyes met and I knew what I had to do.
I summoned every bit of courage I had and extended my hand to him. Together we walked to the grave site. Kate’s grave was a few feet away from Sam’s.
After the interment, the limousines made their way back again down the same streets, past the same well manicured suburban lawns, and through those same Black wastelands, and back again to the very same Church we’d left an hour earlier — this time without Sam. We’d left him back there beneath the cold hard earth of Lake Lawn Cemetery. He lay there afraid, alone and without me. The tears came again.
Later, that night, I went back alone to Lake Lawn Cemetery and visited Sam’s grave. The smell of the fresh turned dirt stung in my nostrils as I sat there and talked with him explaining, for the first time I truly knew exactly what David had gone through all those months earlier when Kate had been killed.
My emotions were swinging back and forth between anger, sadness, and an overwhelming sense of loss, and no matter how ridiculous it may have seemed, there was this feeling of betrayal. “How could you and Kate have been so careless with yourselves? Didn’t you understand that everything you did, especially, dying, affected us?”
Death in a marriage, I realized, didn’t feel any different from being abandoned by your spouse. Whether the abandonment was from death or divorce, bottom line is, you’re alone. Alone with your insecurities and doubts. Alone with yourself.