Disclaimer: I do not own Stranger Things or any of its original characters.
Five days had passed since Holly took her final breath in room 1548 of a hospital in Indianapolis. Five days full of tears, anger, laughter, confusion, and love. They shared stories and memories of Holly; they mourned the future that Holly would never have; they questioned why this had to happen; and they did their best to support each other.
All six of them returned to Hawkins the day that Holly died. El had spoken with her supervisor, and she was lucky enough to have a supervisor caring enough to bend the bereavement rules and give El a week off for her fiance's sister, even though they were not yet married, as they had been together for over ten years and El insisted Holly was already her sister even if it were not legally official.
Mike and El had stayed in Mike's old bedroom, while Nancy and Jonathan had picked up Emily from Joyce and Hopper's house and returned to their home in the town just west of Hawkins.
The three days of funeral planning passed in a blur. Ted and Karen had spoken with the director of the local funeral home the afternoon that Holly died to determine the arrangements, and Holly's obituary was posted in the local newspaper two days later. The phone at the Wheeler house had not stopped ringing, and even though everyone knew the people calling meant well, tensions ran high every time the phone rang.
The day before the viewing, Karen had asked both Mike and Jonathan if they would like to be two of the pallbearers, and they both said yes immediately.
"It's one last thing I can do for my little sister," Mike had added.
The viewing was surreal to Mike. His parents and the funeral home had scheduled two two-hour blocks of viewing time with a two-hour break in the middle, so in total, the family spent over six hours at the funeral home. Mike couldn't believe the number of people who showed up to pay their respects. The line reached from Holly's casket, through the entire funeral home, clear to the door the entire time. Other than family, family friends, the rest of the Party, and Joyce and Hopper, the number of high school students who showed up was overwhelming. Mike hadn't realized his sister had been friends with so many people. Mr. Clarke also came through, as did several other teachers that Mike and Nancy both recognized from high school. The whole day was spent shaking hands and hugging people whose lives had been somehow touched by Holly, and by the end of the day, Mike was simply going through the motions.
When they had returned home from the viewing, Mike immediately took a shower and collapsed into his teenage bed next to El. She realized that he did not want to talk, so she simply rubbed his back while he cuddled close to her and nuzzled his face into her neck until they both fell asleep.
Now, the day of the funeral, five days after Holly had passed away, Mike and El were about to walk into the church. They stood outside the double doors underneath the umbrella that Mike held as the rain steadily drizzled down above them. Mike took a deep breath and hesitated, knowing that when he walked into that church in a few minutes, he would be seeing his little sister for the last time ever.
"Are you ready for this?" El asked gently.
"Is anyone ever ready for something like this?" Mike replied.
El squeezed his hand, and he turned to face her.
"You know Holly adored you, and you've been incredibly strong for her," El said, and Mike nodded.
He turned back to face the doors again and took another deep breath before stepping forward and pushing the door open. Mike and El entered and closed their umbrella, leaving it to hang and dry on the hooks in the entryway. They walked further down the hallway and turned the corner into the sanctuary, and Mike stopped in the doorway to take everything in.
Along the walls on either side of the doors to the sanctuary were tables set up with all the photos of Holly that had been displayed at the viewing. Photos of Holly and her friends, Holly and her family, Holly just being Holly. There were photos of Holly at Nancy and Jonathan's wedding, including a big family picture with the newlywed couple in the center, Karen and Ted next to Nancy, El and Mike next to Jonathan, and Holly standing just in front of her parents. At the end of the aisle in front of the pulpit was Holly's casket. It was still open, as there was an hour scheduled for a private viewing time for the immediate family before the funeral service began.
Mike and El walked down the aisle, glancing into some of the pews and realizing that boxes of tissues had been placed in preparation. When they reached the front row, Karen and Ted stood to hug them before they took their seats next to Nancy and Jonathan. At the end of the pew was Emily, fast asleep.
"She still looks so beautiful," Karen marveled, gazing at Holly's open casket.
When they saw Holly the previous day at the viewing, it was the first time any of them had seen her since the day she passed away at the hospital. None of them had known what to expect, considering the damage that had been done and the scrapes and cuts that remained on Holly's face and neck. Luckily, Holly no longer appeared swollen as she had in the hospital, and the makeup was enough to cover the damage from the car accident. Her makeup was applied beautifully, and her blonde hair was combed and laying perfectly over the shoulders of her favorite dress.
"Yeah, she's gorgeous, Mom," Mike agreed softly.
"I hope you know how much she loved you. All of you," Karen said, looking down the pew at her two oldest children and their significant others.
"I hope she knew how much we loved her, too," Nancy smiled sadly.
"She did," Karen nodded. "She had the time of her life babysitting Emily for you two. And El, she couldn't wait to go wedding dress shopping."
El smiled sadly and looked down at her engagement ring, again imagining marrying Mike without Holly being present.
They continued to reminisce during their private hour, and shortly before the funeral service was about to begin, the family was prompted to say their final goodbyes before the closing of the casket.
Mike and El approached the casket first. El's eyes were brimmed with tears, and Mike felt his own stinging at the corners of his eyes. The numbness he had felt at the hospital when Holly died lasted until the viewing when he had cried hard at seeing his sister in her casket. He looked at Holly laying before him and reached forward to hold her hand one last time. Holly's skin was cold and no longer felt like skin, but Mike squeezed it gently as a tear escaped from the corner of his eye. El slipped one arm around his waist and leaned her head against him as she stared at the blonde lifeless girl as well.
"It was such an honor getting to watch you grow up, Holly," El whispered tearfully. "You showed me the life that a little girl is supposed to have, and then you grew into a beautiful young lady who I was so excited to call my future sister-in-law."
Mike pulled El even closer against himself and kissed her temple. El felt his tears fall into her hair.
"I love you, Holly," Mike managed to whisper through the lump in his throat.
They stood at her side for a few more seconds before returning to the pew and letting Nancy and Jonathan step up to Holly's side. Jonathan was carrying their daughter Emily who was almost two years old and who had woken up from the nap she was taking on the pew.
"Okay Emmy, go ahead and give Aunt Holly the card you made her," Nancy whispered tearfully to her daughter.
Jonathan leaned forward to Emily could lay a handmade card that she had drawn and colored on Holly's chest. The card had a stick figure with a pink dress and blonde hair with a little girl stick figure, and Emily had scribbled around the paper in many different colors and placed several heart-shaped stickers around the picture.
"Good job, sweetie. Can you blow Aunt Holly a kiss?" Jonathan asked quietly, and Emily nodded and blew a kiss toward Holly. "Now wave goodbye."
Emily waved at Holly, and Jonathan kissed Nancy's temple before taking a final look at Holly and stepping away to sit down with Emily and give Nancy some time alone.
"I miss you so much already, Holls," Nancy whispered. "Just keep an eye on all of us from up there. I love you."
Nancy returned to the front row and rested her head on Jonathan's shoulder while Ted and Karen stood and walked to the side of Holly's casket.
Karen looked down at her daughter and gripped the side of the casket with both hands so hard that her knuckles turned white as she began to cry. Shakily, she leaned down and kissed Holly's forehead, brushing her bangs out of the way.
"I'm sorry I couldn't protect you. I will love and miss you forever, baby," Karen murmured through her tears as she continued to stroke Holly's hair.
Ted was standing next to Karen with one hand on her shoulder and the other hand holding Holly's hand. He gave Holly's hand a squeeze and whispered that he loved her before leading Karen back to their seats.
When the six of them had said their goodbyes, the men from the funeral home stepped forward to fold in the white cloth and prepare to close the casket. From the front row, Holly's parents and siblings watched as her casket was slowly closed, and they memorized the last view that they would ever have of her. Once the casket was closed, a large floral arrangement was placed on the middle of the casket.
Soon, guests started arriving. Joyce and Hopper were the first to walk in, and they walked straight up to the front row to greet the Wheeler family. Joyce and Hopper each hugged Karen and Ted before moving down the pew.
"Thanks for coming, chief," Mike whispered as Hopper pulled him into a tight hug.
"Of course, kid," Hopper said softly as he pulled back. "If you need anything, anything, don't hesitate to call."
Mike nodded, and Hopper moved on to hug El. Joyce embraced Mike next, and she squeezed him tightly.
"I'm so sorry, sweetie," she said into his ear.
"Thanks, Mrs. Byers," Mike replied.
"She was a wonderful girl," Joyce said when she pulled back.
"The best," Mike nodded and smiled, looking toward the closed casket that held his sister.
Joyce and Hopper sat in the row directly behind the family, and so did Will, Lucas, Max, and Dustin when the four of them arrived together. People continued to file in, and soon the sanctuary was packed with family and friends of Holly.
Right on schedule, the pastor stepped up to the pulpit and welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming.
"We are all gathered here today to reflect and celebrate the life of Holly Grace Wheeler," he began.
The pastor went on to say that while Holly was taken from Earth at such a young age for a reason that nobody will ever know or understand, she is now living her eternal life free from any pain. He preached that the sadness, grief, and mourning everyone was experiencing were completely normal and that it was okay. After a brief prayer, the pastor introduced Karen to address everyone.
Karen wiped her cheeks dry before taking a deep breath and standing from her spot in the front row. She walked up the steps and took her spot at the pulpit where the pastor had vacated.
"Good morning, and thank you all for coming here today to honor my daughter Holly," Karen started. "For those who may not know me, I am Karen Wheeler, Holly's mother. The past week and a half has been the most devastating time of my life. I watched my baby girl take her final breath, which is a pain that no parent should ever have to endure. I've held and attempted to comfort my older two children while they struggled with watching their little sister pass away before them. I've prayed and begged and pleaded with God, asking Him why us. Why Holly? And I've accepted that this is a question I will never have an answer to. But as I look around here today, and as I think of everyone who came to honor Holly yesterday, I feel truly blessed. I can see how many lives my daughter has impacted in her sixteen short years on this planet, and nothing makes me prouder as her mother."
"Holly was the light of my life, and she had a contagious personality that you couldn't help but love. She had plans and dreams and goals that I know she would have achieved if she were blessed with more time here on Earth," Karen continued. "I'll never understand why she was taken from us, but I will always be thankful for the sixteen years that I was blessed with being her mother. I am truly grateful that the last words I said to Holly the morning of her accident were 'I love you.' So, on behalf of my husband Ted, my daughter Nancy, and my son Michael, I would like to thank every person in this room for loving Holly, and I ask that you keep her memory alive for as long as you live."
Karen stepped away from the pulpit and returned to her seat in the front row.
"That was beautiful, Mom," Mike whispered.
"Absolutely perfect," Nancy agreed.
The pastor returned to his spot up front and began a scripture reading. At the end, the instructions were given about how to exit the church and join the procession to the cemetery. It was also announced that Jim and Joyce Hopper would be hosting lunch in their backyard for anyone interested in attending.
When summoned, Mike and Jonathan stood from the pew and walked toward Holly's casket to take their place with the other four pallbearers who were Mike's uncles – two from Ted's side of the family and two from Karen's side of the family. They all gripped onto the sides of the casket and began walking down the aisle, carrying Holly out of the church and to the hearse that awaited her.
The ride to the cemetery was a fast one. The family rode in a limousine following the hearse, and the long line of cars tailed them through town. Finally, they came to a stop inside the cemetery next to a tent near the plot that Ted and Karen had purchased. The six pallbearers reconvened and carried Holly from the hearse to the stand underneath the tent. Luckily, the rain from that morning had stopped, so not everyone was trying to squeeze in underneath the tent.
When everyone had gathered around, the pastor led another short reading of scripture. The pastor thanked everyone for coming, and as they dispersed, most people walked forward to Holly's casket to tell her a final goodbye.
Shortly afterward, everyone was gathered in Joyce and Hopper's backyard where tables were set up with hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, cookies, and cupcakes. Mike and El were sitting underneath a tree when the rest of the Party arrived and joined them. Will, Lucas, Max, and Dustin each gave Mike a hug before sitting down with their friends.
"How are you holding up?" Will asked.
"It's been rough, but I have a good support system," Mike replied, and El smiled next to him.
"When are you guys going back to Indy?" Lucas asked.
"Tomorrow morning," Mike answered. "It's going to be really weird getting back into our normal routine."
"Well, you know if you ever need anything, we're only a call away," Lucas reminded him.
"We should plan a weekend for all of us to get together in Indy anyway," Dustin suggested.
"You know you're welcome any time," Mike reminded everyone, and they nodded.
They all continued to talk and catch up while eating the lunch that Joyce and Hopper provided. When they finished, Will collected everyone's paper plates and plasticware and took it to throw it away.
"It really was a beautiful service," Max said, and the others nodded in agreement.
"Yeah it was. I'm really proud of my mom for keeping it together when she gave that speech," Mike admitted. "I don't think I would've been able to do that."
It grew silent, and Mike saw a sad smile cross Dustin's face.
"Do you guys remember when Holly used to crash our D&D campaigns?" he recalled.
"Remember?" Lucas laughed. "Eventually, Mike stopped trying to get rid of her and just gave in. Holly would have her tea party set up on the floor next to Mike's chair, and Mike would go from narrating to sipping fake tea out of a little pink teacup."
The guys laughed at the memory, and Max and El both dropped their mouths open and looked at Mike.
"You never told me that," El smiled.
"It only happened a few times," Mike said.
"Remember when she tried to take Will the Wise's hat and wear it as a princess hat?" Dustin asked.
Will rolled his eyes as everyone laughed at the memory, but he smiled along with them.
"Yeah, I'm really gonna miss her… I already do," Mike said.
"We all will," Will smiled.
"Guys, look," Max said suddenly, pointing straight ahead.
Everyone turned to face the direction Max was pointing, and there in the distance was a rainbow, clear as day.
"It's so pretty," El muttered.
"Yeah it is," Mike agreed.
El rested her head against Mike's shoulder, and Mike leaned down to kiss her temple. The others sensed that Mike and El needed a moment alone, so they quietly stood and walked to another spot in the yard to give their friends some space.
"El, I want to thank you for everything you've done for me and my family over the last week and a half," Mike said softly. "This has been a nightmare, and I never would've made it through if it wasn't for you."
"Mike, you don't have to thank me," El said, looking up at him. "I love you, and I love Holly, and I love your whole family. Of course I was going to be with you every step of the way."
"Well, I really appreciate it," Mike said. "It really means the world to me that you were there for me as much as you were."
"Well, you mean the world to me. I'm always going to be there for you," El smiled.
Mike leaned down and kissed his fiance's lips.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you too," El replied.
She sighed and rested her head against Mike's shoulder again, and the two of them sat silently just looking at the rainbow. Mike knew adjusting back to his normal life while still mourning the loss of his sister was going to be hard, but knowing that Holly was in no pain and he had the love and support of his family, friends, and fiancé made him think that maybe there was hope after all.
A/N: For those of you who read this, thank you. Also, thank you for understanding my break from my other stories. I hope to return to those within another week or so. Stay safe, and much love.