"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another."
“Do you remember how we used to climb into that big willow tree down by the river and swing on the rope that my dad had tied on that branch that allowed us a grand view a long way down the Chickahominy?” asked Annabelle.
“I remember that your brother was afraid to try it until you went up ahead of him and showed him that he was not going to land on the river bank or drown in the river,” said Jack with a smile as the memory melted away the intervening years.
“Your brothers were absolutely fanatical about seeing who could swing out the farthest into the river,” recalled Annabelle.
“Yeah, the competitive blood does course through the veins of the Lee boys,” said Jack as he nodded in recollection of that memory as well.
“Do you remember when both of our mothers were standing on the shore under the tree and your brother Jimmy swung out, cannonballed into the water, and then stayed under the water, and swam nearly around the bend, scaring the beans out of your poor mother?” asked Annabelle, as she adjusted her turban.
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Trust me, he caught holy heck for that when my father showed up that night from work,” said Jack with a laugh. “I don’t think Jimmy could have cannonballed the next day had he wanted to after the licking he got from Daddy.”
“It’s a wonder that your mother didn’t lose her mind putting up with you four boys,” said Annabelle with a soft chuckle.
“Uh, I tend to remember that the four of you gave your folks a run for their money as well,” retorted Jack.
“Well I surely don’t know what you mean suh,”said his cousin, affecting a long southern drawl.
“Um huh. If I googled ‘tomboy’ right now, I am relatively confident that your picture would come up. I never met anyone – boy or girl – as fearless as you,” he said with a smile as his eyes filled with tears again.
“Oh Jackie. I am so tired. I am starting to feel a cold that goes right down into my bones too,” she said with a sigh as she grimaced as she attempted to adjust her shrinking frame in what was quickly becoming a very large hospital bed.
“Can I get you anything Annie?” asked Jack.
“Would you hold me? I am getting colder by the minute.”
“Of course,” he said, as he slowly and carefully eased his frame on the bed next to her, working his left arm under her neck and shoulders so that he could pull her into the crook of his arm and chest.
“Thank you Jackie. That is so much better. I don’t think I ever really thanked you and Kathy for being there for me when John and the girls were so suddenly taken from me.”
“Oh Annie honey. We didn’t do anything more than you would have done for us. It was a horrible tragedy for all of us. I still can’t imagine what it was like for you. I don’t know what I would have done had it I been in your place and had lost Kathy and the kids that way.”
“Do you really think I will see them again Jackie?” she asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Oh yeah. John will be waiting for you, as will your two little angel girls,” said Jack.
“I think I am ready to go Jackie,” said Annabelle. “I feel like I am being taken by the hand.”
“I love you Annabelle. Like the sister I never had. You were one of my best friends. You taught me so many things about my heart. You even helped me woo Kathy even after I thought we were no longer a couple. I will always be grateful that we knew each other as kids, and that you were such a big part of my life.”
“I love you too Jackie. Even though John became my best friend and I thought we would be together for ever and ever, I always knew that you were there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, an objective opinion, or just a word of encouragement. You were like my guardian angel.”
“And you mine,” he croaked out as the tears ran down his face into her turban.
“Good bye Jack--.”
“Oh Annabelle,” is all he could muster as he had an image more in his mind than in the room of a young and vivacious Annabelle being led away by the hand by a familiar figure.
“Take care of her Benjamin,” he said to the empty room.
“I will Jackson.”
* * * * *
“And she died just like that?” asked Kathy softly.
“Yes,” croaked out Jack.
“Oh honey. I am so sorry,” she said as she wrapped her arms around him drawing his face next to hers.
“My gosh. She’s really gone,” he lamented.
“But at peace now,” comforted his wife.
“I know. But there is such a hole in my heart, and will be in the heart of just about everyone with whom she has ever come into contact,” he moaned.
“She was always the sweetest person I knew. Sher certainly had more than her share of heartaches and trials in this life,” observed Kathy.
“It just does not seem fair,” started Jack, as he sniffed and pushed himself away in an effort to regain his composure. “I hate when I get misty.”
“Misty. That’s right. Because real Southern men don’t cry,” said his wife, as she dabbed his eyes with her own handful of damp tissues.
“Especially Lee men,” said Jack with a tight smile on his face.
“That must have been quite an experience to have her literally die in your arms,” said Kathy.
“You always wonder how you are going to feel in any given situation, but having her die that way, and have her spirit physically leave her body was nothing short of amazing.”
“What do you mean?”
“One minute we were talking, like we had for over fifty years, and then she was just…gone.”
“Like in mid-sentence?” asked Kathy.
“Like in the middle of saying my name,” said Jack.
“Oh my goodness. But go back to what you said about seeing her spirit physically leaving her body. What did you actually see?”
“I felt as much as I saw her spirit leave, as if there was a light in the room and it floated towards the ceiling and then was gone,” he replied, omitting the fact that he saw Benjamin taking the hand of his cousin.
“Was it just a light, or did you see Annabelle,” asked Kathy.
“Tread softly Jackson.”
“I know, I know. Actually it was Annabelle, before she was sick, before John and the girls died. She was smiling, she appeared happy, and she just left the room,” he said wistfully.
“Wow. I wish I could have been there. If anyone else had told me that I might have doubted them. But Jack, I have no doubt that what you saw was exactly what I think it is like when we die,” she said softly, sitting down on the edge of the sofa. “I just wish I had made it to the hospital before she passed. Who knew that she would leave us today? I thought I would have time to see her tonight or tomorrow afternoon.”
“It was amazing. In fact it was more than amazing. It was a blessing in my own life to have been there. As soon as she passed, there was near absolute silence and a tremendous feeling of peace that just filled the room. I don’t know if I can adequately describe it. Bill and Evie came in within seconds of her passing, and the minute they walked in, they knew she was gone, but it was as if the pain that had been gripping them melted away, and there were tears of relief that I could see roll off their cheeks onto the floor.”
“Oh my gosh.”
“I almost felt like it was an honor for me to be there with them. I mean had I waited to go to see her tonight when you were home, I would have missed it.”
“I am so glad that you went today.”
“After they had taken Annabelle out of the room, the three of us sat there for a little while, and I asked Bill and Evie if I could do anything for them, and Evie looked up at me, smiled, and said, ‘Jackie, you were here for our little girl. She didn’t die alone, and we will forever be comforted in that knowledge, as well as in the fact that our Savior suffered so that she did not have to as she passed from this world.’ It was all I could do not to start bawling like a baby.”
“I don’t know who I could share that experience with without them thinking I was crazy, but I knew I had to share it with you,” he said, moving to sit next her and to put an arm around her shoulders.
“Well, she’s at peace now, and with John and the girls,” she said, wiping her eyes again, and blowing her nose.
“Yep. But it still hurts to know that she is gone,” he started.
“I know honey. I am sure that a lot of people will miss her and that’s probably why a lot of people will attend her funeral.”
“Oh yeah, the funeral.”
“What about it?”
“Before Annabelle died she asked me to speak at her funeral,” he said with a catch in his voice.
“I am not surprised; you were as close as if you were brother and sister.”
“I know, but, I don’t know if I can do it.”
“You can Jack, and I know that you will do a great job.”
She’s right Jackson. You need to deliver this eulogy. There will be those in attendance who need to hear your words.
Are you kidding me?
Jackson, Annabelle knew what she was doing when she asked you to speak. Remember too that the Lord qualifies those that he calls to serve.
“Jack, did you hear me? I asked you if you were going to write something out or just speak from the heart,” said Kathy, a look of concern on her face.
“Sorry, guess I zoned for a minute,” replied her husband. “Uh, I may do a few bullet points on a note card, like I used to do for closing arguments, but I don’t think writing something out would allow me to do justice to Annabelle.”
“Well, if you need an ear to practice on, I’m here,” she said, as she patted his shoulder, walking out of the room.