Chapter 17 – Saying Goodbye
Lee stood listening but not hearing any of the service as the priest spoke. Every part of him ached and his arms felt unbearably empty. How he longed to hold me again, to feel me snug, safe and warm. His heart and head both started a crescendo of 'No's' until it was the only thing he could hear.
People spoke to him, Maddie, Maverick, friends and relatives who had come for the funeral but he didn't hear them.
The sun was warm and he was grateful for Maddie's hand clutched in his. He'd had to leave the kids with babysitters, they were too young to attend or to even understand. Maverick stood on the other side of Maddie holding her hand also. For the last three days she had cried and cried and Lee envied her. What he wouldn't give to cry too! But he was a man and a Navy Officer and they didn't do that although at night when he was alone trying to sleep in the big lonely bed, he didn't hesitate to shed a tear or two as he faced the future.
Lee's mind wandered as the priest droned on with a batch of religious crap that he knew I would have laughed at or made fun of. He remembered the first time he'd seen me, standing uncertainly behind Maddie as she asked about change rooms for the women.
He remembered the sassy smile I'd given him when I'd asked him what he'd give me if I was right. He remembered the quiet hopeful smile as I'd had asked him to kiss me goodnight on our first date.
'How the hell am I supposed to live without her?' His mind screamed over and over again.
"Okay?" Maddie asked tugging his sleeve.
He looked down at her but behind the dark glasses she couldn't read his expression and he preferred it that way. "What do you think?"
All three of them were devastated by my loss.
The service was over and Lee watched as my casket was lowered into the ground. He wanted to scream 'No' and jump in there with me but protocol and upbringing dictated that he didn't.
Someone took his other hand and he looked down into the teary eyed face of his mother. She didn't say anything but stood by holding her son, feeling his pain as his world crashed down around him. The last couple of days he could pretend my passing never happened but being there now he couldn't pretend anymore.
Iceman stood by just as rigid and stoic as himself. Surprisingly with what little feeling he had left, it was Maverick who he felt for most of all. Maverick had been my friend and often he'd be the one to pull me out of a down mood or make me see the lighter side of things. Lee remembered the kiss in the hospital and how affected and devastated I had been by it. We were close and my passing had also broken his heart.
Maverick, however, felt marginally better than his wife and partner as he had the job of looking after them and that gave him something to focus on, helping take his mind off my death. Also the kids needed someone to keep up normalcy during this terrible time and he seemed to be the only one capable of such things.
The service was over. People came up to Lee, spoke to him, shook his hand, patted his shoulder and offered words of condolences but he heard nothing. There lips moved but there was no sound. Lee went through the motions of shaking hands and thanking people for coming but it was his partner, friend and mother who did most of the talking for him.
Suddenly Lee needed to be alone. He was sick and tired of all the niceness and sympathy. It wasn't their wife that died it was his and he felt a deep seated need to stop everyone trying to share in that fact.
Maddie and others called as he turned away and started walking away from his own wife's funeral. He didn't want to be there anymore.
"Do we go after him?" Maddie asked helplessly as they watched the loan figure stride away. He moved in the opposite direction to the cars, the people and his wife's grave.
"No let him go," Maverick suggested. "Lee's a deeply private person he won't want to share his grief with anyone."
"Yes that is my son," Rachael spoke in a mixture of pride and sadness as she watched Lee's departing back.
Maddie turned back to the open grave as the undertaker's and cemetery staff slid a matt full of flowers over the site. "Dear god I can't believe she's gone, after everything she's been through."
"I know Honey, I know," Maverick said hugging her close.
Eventually he and Lee's mother led the sobbing girl away into a waiting car for the trip to the reception house for the supper. They had decided to have it at a reception house rather than where we lived, it seemed a lot less invasive for Lee and his children.
Lee walked around returning to the gravesite after everyone had gone. From inside his jacket pocket he withdrew the red velvet box that held my own set of gold pilot's wings. Looking at it momentarily he unhesitatingly pushed some flowers aside and threw them in. Next he shrugged out of his flight jacket remembering how good it had looked on my naked body. How I had loved that jacket and how annoyed he would get when I kept stealing it for my own use. I had driven Lee around the bend stealing his jacket as often as I did. He looked at the jacket for a minute before dropping it into the hole and on top of my coffin. He never noticed the tears trickling down his cheeks as he sank to his knees and said his final goodbye.
When he returned to where the cars had been Maverick was there waiting in the jeep.
Lee sighed and slid into the passenger's seat, "Thanks Mav," Was all he said. Aside from me, Maverick was the only other constant in his life that he could rely on. "She's finally got my jacket so that should make her happy."
Maverick smiled, "Oh for sure."
The jeep started softly and the two handsome men drove away without looking back.
Lee never went to the traditional wake-like supper or had anything else to do with my death. When people called by the house to say goodbye as they returned to their everyday lives Lee went through the routine robotically of thanking them for coming and their well wishes. If they tried to talk about me and what they remembered he would cut them off with a look that said, 'that's my business not yours.'
He hated talking about me to anyone, even Maverick and Maddie. Maddie thought it was strange but she respected his choice and quietly when she and Maverick were alone, they'd relive the memories between them. Maddie thought Lee was being selfish and unfair especially to our children but she and Maverick made sure they kept the memory of me alive for them.
While Lee never said anything he didn't mind and was grateful to them for doing it. For a long time Lee couldn't bring himself to talk about me in anyway. I was his memory and he didn't want to share me with anyone.
Chelsea as she got older, naturally asked more questions but the twins didn't as they're memories faded. Jake, of course, never knew me.
Over time Lee opened up and started to share with them but it took a long time to do so.