89: White Boxes

89: White Boxes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

White Boxes

In a soulmate we find not company but a completed solitude.

~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com

Two simple, white boxes define my whole life. Four long years ago, these small items came through my front door, and still cause my breath to stop when I think back to their arrival.

There is a John Lennon song that says, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Just months before the unimaginable, we were on cloud nine.

After many years of hunting for our perfect home, the place of our dreams materialized for my husband Duane and me. We called it our Miracle House as it came into our lives the exact moment we needed it. We felt like teenagers, intoxicated at having a property that could be a retreat for friends, family, and occasional clients. It would house both our offices so we could work from home. Our postage stamp-sized piece of real estate was on a little jewel of a lake, so small it didn’t have a name.

After we moved in, Duane often said, “We are simply the stewards watching over this place.”

He didn’t feel anyone could literally own something so magical. He carefully selected the right spot to place unique garden bells he’d made from recycled materials and proudly hung on a six-foot tall cedar frame. Their deep resonating range of sound would stop you in your tracks. The soft and tranquil sound blended with offerings of Mother Nature: Blue Heron, circles of carp, bull frogs and owls serenading one another across the water at night. Entertainment was at our back door. We were in awe that life on the edge of the city could be this good.

The house itself overflowed with possibility, standing proudly over the water, a petite Titanic beginning its famous cruise. Looking through large French doors and windows, one viewed a long deck running the length of the house with various bird feeders hanging in large trees at its helm. A lower deck contained by wrought iron fencing to support the voyage to another world, lead to an even lower third tier with a small dock, just big enough for accessing a little boat on the water and further lounging. We joked we’d never leave this place; we’d have to be carried out, feet first on a stretcher.

Thanks to my husband, the vessel inside had 4,000 square feet of fresh paint, rich shades of butter, terra cotta, copper and turquoise in rooms begging to express themselves. The breathtaking views offered a glimpse into the sacred, watery otherworld. We filled spaces with farm tables, antiques, paintings, plants, hand-knotted rugs, books, music, and Duane’s writing. Trays of candles, glass bowls of nature’s offerings, vases of flowers graced the tables. The house was a work of art in comfort, colors, contrasts, and textures.

We shaped these spaces while honoring the kaleidoscopic views, working together as if joined at the hip. It was always hard to leave, even for errands. Completing this new place became our mission so we could expand our creative consulting offerings to the world, oblivious to what lay ahead.

Just six months after we moved in, unpacking almost complete, in the middle of a typical Saturday, life was normal one minute, but then with absolutely no warning, everything changed. The ship that was my life began to sink.

It was not really any different than the story of the Titanic, where people onboard were full of adventure and life. Suddenly the ship hit an iceberg. Bam! The party was over.

Our disaster happened on the kitchen floor, where my husband’s head landed with an unbelievably hard thud on gleaming wood. He’d been making jokes just five minutes before. Then, he was in the kitchen starting dinner. He was never sick. This could not be happening.

Within ten minutes, the kitchen was turned into an emergency room. Paramedics were ripping off my husband’s shirt as they performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and using defibrillator paddles to restart his heart. I rushed, looking for his health insurance card thinking, “Thank God we have this.” After minutes of unsuccessful resuscitations, my hands were shaking as I handed over the insurance card to the paramedic. The paramedic said, “That insurance card won’t be necessary ma’am,” as they carried him out to the ambulance on a stretcher. The next few days were a blur trying to figure out his funeral service. So much happened that I could only go through the motions.

Like the Titanic, my great voyage ended. Our life sank. Within 48 hours, he was cremated, and I was buried. Buried in the aftermath of not knowing where to turn, how to run a sinking ship, how to stay afloat while the one I cared about most was now gone. Later his precious, well-built body came back to me in a little white box draped in a burgundy velvet bag. That’s all it was, one small, white linen box with his ashes in it.

Sometimes that’s how life happens to you when you are busy making other plans.

After the funeral, the assistant funeral director dropped by our house. I had left prayer candles; he returned them in an identical white linen box.

“I have never before assisted in a funeral where it was so incredibly peaceful among family and friends, and I have been involved in this work for a long time. Believe me, what makes this business stressful is unpleasant tension and arguing during services,” he said, as we stood outside on the upper deck. Then he looked out toward the little lake and said, “This sure is a special place and it feels so very peaceful here.”

Duane’s bell went off with a big gentle, deep chime as if his kind-hearted, appreciative spirit was present, saying “Thank you.” It was that powerful “om” sound that vibrated through the day lily bed, put to rest for the winter, vibrated further out in waves through the microscopic world Duane loved.

Now, I believe he comes here in spirit, chiming garden bells, flickering house lights. Each chime reminds me to be in the present as I create visions vital to my own life. Numb while packing, I allow our relationship to continue its transformation, our dream and its glory. I say goodbye for now, saluting the mysteries of life, knowing timing is divine. Life could cease instantly, only to return in a simple, small white linen box that really takes no room in physical space, but encompasses the whole universe in my aching, yet trusting, heart.

~Jo Anne Flaming

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