Somehow we've managed to get through another day. We've been on the phone nonstop. I never realized I knew so many people. The "viewing" is scheduled for this evening - Laura's 11th birthday. I had not packed anything appropriate to wear to Joe's funeral so Jim and I called a cab and set out for a little shopping center not far from our hotel. Somehow we stumbled through the store and for some odd reason that I've never figured out we couldn't find a phone number to call a cab to come back for us. We were just wandering in a dazed state....... Jim finally spotted a police car cruising the parking lot and flagged it down. The officer gave us a ride back to the hotel. By this time everyone in the state of Tennessee had seen the news over and over and over. Everyone we came in contact with was so kind and sympathetic! By now the hotel was filling up with friends and family who had traveled to Tennessee to pay their respects. I was practically comatose and recall very little of the next few days. But, what I do recall is incredibly vivid!
We arrive at the funeral home around 7 or so............ I remember so many people waiting outside. It was amazing there were so many people considering we were all so far from home. Of course it dawned on me later and the next day at the funeral itself that Joe had lived and worked in that area for a number of years and knew so many people. Everyone was waiting until I arrived and, respectfully, waited to enter until I had had a chance to see Joe for the first time!!! Jim again instructed Tom on how to hold my arm in case I fainted.........
It is so strange. When we got to the door leading into the "parlor" where Joe was I felt almost as if I ran to his casket. I had to get to him, to hold him, to love him, to let him know that I was there and he was no longer alone. Jim told me later that I barely was able to walk and yet I felt as if I had run like the wind... There was my only child, my little boy turned man, lying in sweet repose with eyes closed, never to open them again to look at me with love. Never to look at me with a little twinkle. Never to look at me in all seriousness. Never to look at me with worry or pride or anything else. Never! That is a long, long time.
It was simply amazing how things had come together through concerned people working in the background. Of course Joe's friend, Mike, had FedEx the dress blues which were prominently displayed on some type of mannequin. Joe's high school sweetheart, Jackie, and her sister had put together a number of collages to be displayed. The pictures were beautiful and all of his high school years. One of his dear friends from Easton had brought them. My neighbor and dear friend had gone through my house and had gathered certain pictures and things and had sent them FedEx to the funeral home. It looked like a proper tribute to a fallen hero. The number of floral arrangements was mind boggling. It is simply amazing how all of this came together so beautifully hundreds of miles from home in a strange town amongst strangers. All of it done by friends who cared!
I cannot for the life of me begin to imagine how many people came and went that night for the two hours of visitation. I well remember trying with all my might to talk to each and every one and express my gratitude that they came to honor my child. Forever etched in my memory is my dear, dear friend, Maxwell, who traveled from St. Louis to pay his respects. He sat with his wife looking as if it were his own child lying there. He was so profoundly saddened that I wanted to reach out and comfort him. Then there was my little DeeDee trying so hard to take care of my mother and stepfather and at the same time being so kind to everyone who came, all the while dealing with her own grief and shock.
I kept hovering over the casket touching Joe. His face had some bruising but was perfect otherwise. I swear I almost crawled in there with him. I couldn't keep my hands off him. I also was puzzled why the three white roses that I wanted placed in his hands were just laying beside him. I had put a lot of pictures in the casket with him. I even had DeeDee bring a picture of my father who had died almost 30 years before that. I wanted Joe to take with him pictures of everyone he loved so he would never be alone. Jim and Tom kept steering me away from the casket every time I touched Joe....... the "hands" thing kept nagging at me. Why weren't his hands placed like all other people that I'd seen in a casket? His hand weren't even showing. I found out much later that there wasn't much left - according to the funeral director it was the worst he had ever seen and he had told Jim and Tom to keep me from touching him. I guess he was afraid that what little was left would fall apart!! We were so lucky to be able to have an open casket.
I think this is the hardest part for me......... Joe loved his body and he honored it. From the time he was a tiny child he instinctively knew that his body was a miraculous creation and deserved to be treated as such. As a young teenager he started working out with weights. He played all sports. He always ate correctly. He got enough rest. Once he joined the Marine Corps he became even more fixated on his physique. After the Marine Corps and while in law enforcement he was a semi-pro body builder and competed at a state level. He was damned good looking, proud of it and strutted his "stuff"!!~:) To think that his body was totally destroyed in the blink of an eye is more than I can bear. It is one of the rare occasions that I must believe in Heaven as other people believe. There are no injuries, there are no cripples, there are no missing limbs - everyone is whole.
I have never, ever disclosed this to another soul. Jim took this to the grave with him. DeeDee has no clue. No one would want to know the horrific details because they wouldn't be able to deal with it. It is my silent secret that just kills me. Why oh why oh why??
Eighteen months later at the trial of the drunk driver and in communicating with the officers of the Critical Incident Response Team this would be confirmed - again!!
Phew!! I think that is all I can do tonight......
Thank you my friends. This is cathartic and I will finally begin to heal. The telling of the story in whole will be my salvation!
With love ~ my arms are wrapping around you both with a big, warm hug.