Once again I must thank Charmie for holding my hand and walking me through this. This was a rough chapter.
Also, much thanks to everyone who is reviewing. I got some really touching reviews recently. I hope that as you read this and when you reach the end that you get as much out of it as I got writing it.
Have a Little Faith
Having so many people under my roof made me strangely restless. By the end of that first week, I was sleeping very little, if any each night. It was Friday night and Bella was staying with me as she always did, but her usually calming presence was doing nothing to ease my mind or help me sleep.
I eased out of the bed, being careful to not wake Bella, and tiptoed down the back stairs to the kitchen. Momma was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of untouched hot chocolate in front of her.
"Edward? Why are you up?" she asked.
I shrugged. "Couldn't sleep. You?" I asked as I started to fix my own cup of hot chocolate.
"I sleep all the time, except when I should. Plus, your daddy snores."
"Yes, I know. I used to be able to hear him from across the hall when I was a kid." I sat at the table and took a sip of my drink. I promptly burnt my tongue.
"You never could wait for it to cool," Momma said with a smile.
"I have no patience," I replied and placed the cup on the table. "Did you have a good day?"
"It's really not so bad... this dying thing," she said wistfully. "It's really rather comforting... natural. I'm not frightened like I thought that I would be. Do you know what I do most of the time? I try to remember things. I try to think about things that I've done or haven't done. I think about regrets.
"It's strange, Edward. I have very few, if any, regrets. My life has been wonderful. I've done things that I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would do. I married an extraordinary man who worships me and I him. I had a beautiful, perfect child. I've loved and been loved. It's been a wonderful life.
"I don't want to die, but if I must... and apparently I must... then I have nothing to complain about. God has given me more in this lifetime than most people get in a thousand."
She picked up her cup and took a tentative sip. She looked up at me and said, "Live your life, Edward. Love with all your heart even if it sometimes hurts. Don't regret anything. Our time here is too short for regrets."
A few days later, I walked in on Momma and Ro in the living room. Ro was painting Momma's toenails an obnoxious shade of blue. They were talking and laughing like teenagers. I looked at Momma and realized that she didn't look sick at all. She looked happy.
I shook my head and leaned over the couch. "Blue? Seriously, Ro, that color is awful."
"I don't know," Momma said as she surveyed one foot. "I think that it goes well with my skin-tone. I may have the funeral home paint my fingernails this color." She held up one hand and chuckled. Rosalie looked at the floor and pursed her lips.
"Not funny," I mumbled.
Momma sighed and said, "No one gets my sense of humor." Then she wiggled her toes at Ro. "One more coat?"
I came home from work about a week after everyone had moved in and heard Momma in the living room talking to someone. I placed my things on the kitchen counter and eased closer to the door to listen.
"I'm not afraid. I know where I'm going."
"I'm afraid," Alice said softly. "I'm afraid for Carlisle and Edward. I don't know how they're going to cope without you."
"Carlisle will grieve, but he'll be fine. He and I have talked about it. I don't want his life to end just because mine has. I want him to do all the things we had planned to do before God had other ideas. I told him to live for me. He'll be okay."
"Edward is stronger than you realize. Yes, he can be a spoiled brat sometimes, but in the end, he's my son. We're more alike than you'd think. He's going to surprise ya'll."
"I hope so," Alice muttered.
"I don't hope… I have faith," Momma said. "Enough with the heavy. It's almost November and I haven't done any Christmas shopping. I want to go to the mall tomorrow. Can you take the day off and go with us?"
I came home the next day to an empty house. Suzy met me at the door. She danced around my feet and all but handed me the leash. I tried to walk around her and into the living room… she ran between my legs and tripped me.
"Jesus Christ, are you trying to kill me?" I exclaimed as I caught myself on the kitchen bar. "Can I please put down my things before I cater to your every whim?" She nipped me on the back of the leg. "Bite me again, bitch, and lose a few teeth." She growled and bared her teeth at me. "Yeah, I'm really afraid of your five pound ass." I set my briefcase on the floor by the stairs and picked up her leash from the table. She growled at me as I reached down to hook it to her collar.
I rose back up and said, "If you bite me, I will drop kick you into next week. Capisce?" She may have rolled her eyes at me at this point. She knew that I was bluffing.
I finally got the leash on her and headed out the door when my phone rang. "Hey, love, what's up?"
"I'm going to be late tonight," Bella said abruptly. That's how she'd been for the last few days. I'd tried to find a way to talk to her about it, but she was always too tired or just not around.
"Bella, is something wrong. You've been kind of distant lately."
"No, nothing's wrong. I have to go."
"Bella, wait." I heard her sigh on the other end of the line. "Did I do something or say something to piss you off?"
"It's not about you, Edward. It's me. I feel like such a failure. I can't stand to watch your mother just slip away. I love her so much. It's like watching my own mother die all over again." I could tell that she was crying and it broke my heart.
"I didn't think about it that way," I mumbled. "I'm sorry. I know this is hard for you, but you aren't a failure. You did everything that you could. We knew that she was a short-timer from day one."
"I should have found the renal cancer sooner," she whispered.
"Coulda, shoulda, woulda. All words of regret. Momma has no regrets and neither should you. It's not your fault. It just is."
"It brings back so many memories."
"I know and I'm sorry. I know that it's selfish, but I need you right now, Bella. You've been through this. I need you to help me get through it too. Please don't leave me to cope with this alone."
She was silent for so long that I checked to make sure that my phone hadn't dropped the call. Finally, she said, "I'll be there at the normal time. I'll bring Chinese."
A few nights later, I awoke to find Bella gone. I got up and started down the back staircase when I heard voices coming from the kitchen. Being the natural eavesdropper that I am, I sat down on the stairs to listen.
"It changed him," Momma said. "He was so trusting and open before. The thing about Edward is that when he loves, he loves with his whole heart. If you're lucky enough to be loved by him, then you get all of him.
"Kate very nearly broke him. He loved her so much. He gave himself to her so completely. When she betrayed him... he just wasn't the same Edward when she finished with him.
I sighed and buried my head in my hands. Everything that she was saying was true. Kate had broken me.
"He stayed away for a long time. He didn't come home for Christmas or for Spring Break. He sent a card and had flowers delivered for Mother's Day. We thought that he wasn't coming home for the summer, but he did. She had the baby then.
"I thank God that it wasn't his. Not that having a grandchild would have been a bad thing. I just don't think that he could have been tied to Kate like that for the rest of his life after what she had done. I still don't think that he's forgiven her."
I started when Bella spoke. "I would never do anything like that to him, Esme."
"I know that," Momma replied. "I just wanted you to understand that my little boy loves completely. He loves you... I can see it and it's beautiful. But it can also be intense sometimes. You are his world. He will move heaven and earth for you. He will do anything you ask and he will give you everything you desire. It's just who he is. It's not a bad thing, but it is a bit overwhelming sometimes."
I heard Bella laugh. "Well, he'll have it easy with me, because all I ask of him is that he be kind to me and that he be happy and all I desire is to love him and be loved by him. I know how special he is, Esme. I sometimes don't feel worthy of his love because of it."
I stood and had to stop myself from exposing my eavesdropping by rushing to her and telling her that I was the lucky one to have found her. It turns out that I didn't have to do that.
"He's the lucky one, Bella. We're all lucky that you found each other. You gave him back to us. Ever since he met you he's back to the open and loving Edward that we all remember. It's because of you and we can't thank you enough. Thank you for giving me back my son."
Yes, thank you, my love, for teaching me how to love again. I thought as I turned and went back to my bedroom.
It was a Saturday, a little over three weeks after Momma was released. It was well into the afternoon and Momma had still not emerged from the bedroom; the days that she spent more time out of the bed than in it were becoming fewer and fewer.
We were all just kind of lounging around the house when Momma shuffled into the living room. She called my name so I put down the patent application I was reading and looked up at her. She was still swollen, but not as badly as she had been a few weeks before. The dialysis was keeping the edema somewhat at bay. Her skin was a ghostly gray-blue and her eyes had sunken in and were heavily hooded. It scared me to see her like that.
"What do you need, Momma?" I asked.
She motioned for me to come to her. In the last few days, we had noticed that she could barely speak above a whisper. I got up and walked to her.
"Play for me," she whispered.
"What? I haven't played for anyone in a while, Momma. I'll probably suck," I replied.
She shook her head. "Don't care. Play anyway." She shuffled into my music room and sat on one end of the piano bench.
I sat on the other end and turned to her. "What do you want to hear?"
"Doesn't matter. Just play."
I took a deep breath and blew it out as I cracked my knuckles. I mentally went through the list of pieces that I had once memorized and decided that there was only one that I thought I could play all the way through without too many mistakes.
"How about a little Beethoven?" I asked as I began to play Piano Sonata No. 8. Four bars in, I made my first mistake. "Shit," I muttered.
"I know… language. Let me start over." I began again. I made it through the Grave. As I moved into the Adagio, Momma gently laid her head on my shoulder. I stopped playing and turned to her.
"Are you okay?"
"Don't stop," she whispered.
I swallowed back the lump that was forming in my throat and began where I had left off. My vision began to blur with tears and I was thankful that I wasn't trying to read any sheet music. It would have been impossible.
As the first tears ran down my cheeks, I felt the moisture on my shoulder. I bit my lip and continued to play. I was approaching the Allegro, and was dangerously close to losing my shit, when Momma placed her hand on my knee.
"Stop," she whispered. "Please stop. It's too beautiful. I want you to play it at the funeral."
"No, I can't. I'd never make it through it," I said through my tears.
"You have to do it, Edward," Bella said from the doorway. She was crying too. "It's almost as if the piece was written for this. You have to play it."
"For me?" Momma asked.
I sighed. "I'll try."
We were two weeks into November and it was looking as if Momma would make it to Thanksgiving. She had dialysis three times a week which kept her swelling down. She didn't appear to have trouble breathing, which Bella said was a good sign. She had begun to tire easily though and spent most of the time either in the bed, on the couch, or, if it were nice outside, in a lounge by the pool.
I walked into the kitchen from the garage. The whole room smelled like chicken soup. Daddy was standing at the stove.
"Esme's dinner," he said as he began to stir the contents of the boiler. "She and Ro are out by the pool." I nodded and headed for the stairs. "Hey, she wants to talk to you."
I stopped and turned. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Just something she needs to say to you. Go change and I'll tell her that you're home."
Rosalie was helping Momma inside as I descended the stairs after changing out of my work clothes. Walking was becoming more difficult for her. Just a few steps seemed to exhaust her. I went to her side and helped Ro get her to the couch.
"Thank you," she whispered. "Ro… do you mind?" she asked as she motioned toward her bedroom.
"No problem. I'll be right back."
I sat next to Momma on the couch. "Daddy said that you wanted to talk to me?"
"Just a minute," she said and closed her eyes. "I need to lay back." I moved and helped her get her legs and feet onto the couch. I moved to sit on the loveseat, but she patted the cushion next to her hip. "No. Here."
I moved back to the couch just as Ro came back into the living room. She walked over and placed something in Momma's hand before she left for the kitchen. Momma took my hand and placed the object in it.
"You're engagement ring? I don't understand."
"When the time is right, you give this to Bella. It's not a large stone, but it's flawless. I want you to give this to her with my blessing. I already love her like a daughter. Your daddy and I agree that its place is on Bella's finger and not in the ground with me."
I nodded. I ground my teeth to hold back the tears that always seemed to be threatening to spill over. "I'm sure that she'll be honored."
A couple of days after Momma gave me her ring, I found Bella standing in the doorway of Momma's bedroom. She was watching Momma sleep. I slipped my arms around her waist and hugged her to me.
"She looks so peaceful," Bella whispered. That was when I noticed that she was crying.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
She shook her head. "My mother... when she was dying... she looked peaceful when she slept. Mother's cancer was very painful in the end and she had to be given pain meds... morphine. She would sleep and be at peace. When it wore off, she would writhe in pain. She'd beg for more, but sometimes it would be too soon. I remember my dad screaming for the nurse to just give her the medicine."
She turned to face me. "I've never withheld morphine or any other pain meds from a terminally ill patient. It's not right for their last days to be filled with pain. I always order the nurses to give them what they need, when they need it. No one should die in pain... not with the medications we have available."
"Momma doesn't appear to be in much pain," I said.
"Not yet, but if she begins to experience any, and I do mean any, pain, I will give her whatever she needs. I can't watch another person I love suffer like that."
Momma had decreed that Thanksgiving would be prepared by Daddy and Ro. Bella and Alice had offered to help, but Momma had insisted that Daddy and Ro were perfectly capable. We were all a little skeptical.
It was the Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving. Momma's permanent place had become the living room couch. From her post just outside the kitchen she could plan the menu and somewhat supervise Daddy and Rosalie.
She had sent Alice and Jasper to the grocery store and had our reluctant chefs in the kitchen practicing some of the more complex recipes. I was the gopher, taking samples to Momma and instructions back to the two in the kitchen. I also seemed to be mediating all of the disagreements between Daddy and Ro; there were many. Bella was still at the hospital and Emmett was doing what he normally did when there was work to be done; he was hiding.
Momma had just finished sampling the second try at dressing casserole when she asked me to help her to the bathroom. I placed the spoon on the coffee table and helped her stand. I supported her weight as she shuffled to the half-bath in the hallway. She said that she could take it from there so I pushed the door to. I was waiting for her to tell me that she was ready to go back to the couch when I heard it; a loud gasp and then a thud.
I jerked the door open. Momma was lying, motionless on the floor.
"Momma," I screamed as I dove for her. "Daddy… Ro… help!"
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ HaLF ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
Momma never regained consciousness. She remained in a coma for two days before quietly passing from this world. The doctors think that she might have had a stroke.
I started chronicling her story, and I guess mine as well, in September of 2009. At that time it looked as if she was going to beat it. At that time she had lived ten months... four longer than any doctor had anticipated. God had other plans. She made it exactly one year and one week.
When she died, Momma was the longest survivor of mantle cell lymphoma in the country. There are medical journal articles written about her and her treatment. Her anomalies were chronicled. What she had hoped to happen has... others are surviving because of her and what the doctors learned from her.
There wasn't a dry eye in the room when Momma took her last breath. Even Dr. Gorenski cried. I remember how we all stayed in the room just staring at the remarkable woman who had quietly left us to go to her new home. It seemed like such a tragedy for someone so good to leave this world when so many evil people get to stay.
Daddy had her transported back to Gadsden to Morgan Funeral Chapel. I don't know how funerals work in other parts of the country, but in the South, we have visitation the night before the interment. This is when most people pay their respects. It lasts a few hours.
Momma's visitation was scheduled for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and was supposed to last from six o'clock to nine o'clock. Daddy, Ro, Em, Bella, and I got there at five o'clock; there were people waiting for the doors to open.
I've never seen that many people at a visitation in my life. The director had to open three additional chapels to accommodate the overflow. There had to have been close to a thousand people there that night. It was amazing to see how many lives that she had touched in her sixty-one years.
Daddy and I stood at the head of her casket and accepted people. Bella didn't get too far away from me. There were times when I needed a hand and all I had to do was reach behind me. She'd place her hand in mine and give it a squeeze. She had promised that she'd not let me go through it alone and she was true to her word.
I was doing alright, not great but I was maintaining, when I suddenly turned and grabbed Bella by the wrist, jerking her to my side.
She hadn't changed much; she was still quite beautiful. Her dark hair was shorter and her figure had rounded a bit, but I would still have recognized her anywhere. She had a dark haired, dark skinned teenage boy with her.
"I'm so sorry, Carlisle," I heard her say to Daddy. "She was a wonderful woman."
Daddy nodded and mumbled 'thank you.' He had been silently crying since Saturday, so talking wasn't always possible for him.
She turned to me and our eyes met.
"Kate," I said and pulled Bella closer to my side.
"Oh, Edward, I'm so, so sorry. Esme was... she was just so..."
"I know." I swallowed the lump in my throat. "Thank you for coming." I really wanted her to leave quickly. After all these years, I still had nothing to say to her.
"This is my son... Hunter."
He stepped forward and extended his hand. "Hi. I'm sorry about your mother."
I shook his hand and replied, "Thank you. This is my Bella."
"It's nice to meet you," Bella said as she shook Kate's hand.
Kate smiled and then said, "Edward, is there somewhere that we could speak... alone?"
"No," I replied.
"There are things that I need..."
"No, there isn't," I said, cutting her off. "There's nothing that needs to be said. It's done. I've moved on."
She looked at the floor and nodded. Then she said, "I'm sorry... for everything."
"I know," I replied. "Thank you for coming."
"Take care of him, Bella. He's special," she said as she walked away.
I blew out the breath I had been holding. "Thank you," I whispered to Bella. She smiled and hugged me to her side.
My mother taught second grade at Sand Rock School for thirty-two years. She had no less than thirty students in her class each year. Multiply thirty by thirty-two and you get nine hundred sixty. That's how many students Momma taught in her career. I swear that at least half of them were at the funeral home that night. Daddy and I shook all of their hands.
They all had stories to tell.
One woman had been in mother's class in 1974, the year she became pregnant with me. She told us that twenty years later, when her own daughter was entering the second grade, she had called the school and insisted that she be in mother's class and not the other second grade teacher's.
Her daughter was with her and told us how thankful she was that her mother had done that, because Momma had taught her so much more than the required subjects. She said that she had learned how to be a good person from my mother. Momma was the reason that she had gone to college to be a teacher. She now teaches second grade too.
A man approached Daddy and was almost unable to speak. He told us how he was being abused at home and was afraid to tell anyone. He said that Momma just seemed to know and told him that she would make sure that he was safe. He told her everything and she contacted DHR. She stayed with him at the school until a social worker arrived. She testified in court to the marks she had seen on him. Her testimony resulted in his abusers spending several years in jail.
He said that he was placed with a wonderful family who petitioned to adopt him when he was twelve. Momma went to court again and testified on his and his foster family's behalf. Because of Momma, he grew up in a loving, supportive home. He said that he was so thankful for her and felt like he could never repay her for all she had done for him.
Another man told us about how if it hadn't been for Momma encouraging him to do better and to get better grades, then he never would have even graduated high school... much less gone to college. Apparently, Momma kept at him even after he left her class. He graduated in the top ten of his class in high school and went to Auburn University on a partial scholarship. He's a veterinarian now and the first person in his family to finish high school and go to college.
A young woman approached Daddy and gave him a hug. She then asked if she could sing at the funeral the next day. She had been in Momma's second grade class in 1990. She told us that she was always singing in class and rather than admonish her, Momma encouraged her. She kept singing. She went to the University of Montevallo on a choral scholarship. After she graduated from college, she moved to Nashville. She now sings back up for Carrie Underwood and is shopping around a demo tape.
We told her that we'd be honored.
It was fast approach midnight and there were still quite a few people waiting to speak to us. I looked out through the crowd and saw an older man and a woman about my age. They both had long white, blond hair. I was sure that I had never met them, but they looked oddly familiar.
They walked up to mother's casket. The man bent over and looked long and hard at Momma. I then heard him say to the woman with him that Esme hadn't aged a day and that she was still beautiful.
I kept my eyes on them as they waited for the line of people to dwindle down to just a few before they got in line themselves. I couldn't figure out why they looked so familiar.
The funeral director had brought Daddy a chair at around ten. As the familiar couple approached, Daddy stood.
"Hi, Marcus," he said. "It was good of you to come."
"Thank you for putting the announcement in the Daily Mountain Eagle. She looks exactly the same."
Daddy smiled. "She aged well. When was the last time you saw her?"
"The day I escaped... in 1960. Esme was twelve. I hated leaving her, but I was only sixteen. I could barely take care of myself."
"She understood. She didn't blame you. It was a difficult house to be in... from what I've heard. Is she still alive?" Daddy asked. By this time I was wondering who the hell this was and why he was here.
"Lillian? No. She died about five years ago. Father is in a nursing home in Jasper. I've seen him a few times, but he doesn't know me. I don't think that he knows anyone... Alzheimer's."
"Daddy?" I finally asked.
"Right," he said. "Edward, this is your uncle... Marcus. He's your mother's brother."
"You have her nose and mouth," he said. "This is my daughter, Jane."
I was in shock. All this time I had thought that Momma didn't have any family; that they had abandoned her. Now this man and his daughter show up at her funeral... I was more than a little confused.
"Where have you been?" I asked. "Why haven't we ever met you before? Why are you here now?"
"Edward..." Daddy tried to admonish me.
"It's alright, Carlisle. He has every right to be angry. After I... got out, I went to Kentucky. I worked in the coal mines there for over forty years. My ex-wife and my other daughter are still there. Jane and I moved back to Oakman in 2000.
"I found Esme eight years ago. I wrote her a letter asking to see her. I sent her pictures of us... me and Jane and my other daughter, Heidi. She wrote back that she wasn't ready to see any of the family. She had dismissed us from her life. To her, it was like we had all died. I never tried to contact her again.
"If I had known that she was sick, I would have been here. I never forgot her. I carried her with me in my heart. She was my sister and I loved her."
"She forgave you," Daddy said. "She didn't want you to see her when she was sick. She told me to put the announcement in the Eagle."
"Thank you for that. And thank you for not throwing me out," he said. "I wouldn't have blamed you."
"That's not what Esme wanted. You will be here tomorrow, right?" Daddy asked.
"Of course." He turned to Jane and said, "Let's get out of their hair so they can go home and get some sleep."
She looked up at me and I suddenly realized why she looked so familiar. She had Momma's facial features. The only difference between the two was the color of the eyes and the color of the hair. I gasped.
"You look more like her than I do," I said with surprise.
She smiled. "Daddy says that all the time. She was beautiful. I'll take it as a compliment."
It was almost one in the morning when we got in our cars to drive home. To their credit, none of the staff at the funeral home complained about having to stay late. They did tell us that they were moving us to the largest chapel and removing the walls between the two that adjoined it. They were anticipating a crowd.
I don't know about anyone else, but I couldn't get to sleep that night. Momma's pastor was going to say a few words and then Rosalie was going to speak. Daddy had asked me to say something before I played the sonata. I had no clue what I was going to say.
I finally got out of bed and walked into the kitchen. I opened the cabinet to get a mug for hot chocolate and there was the one I'd made for Momma when I was in the sixth grade. I was taking home-ec as an elective to meet girls. We painted mugs. I did one for Momma that said 'Bestest Momma.'
Took it off the shelf and stared at it.
"You were the 'bestest'," I whispered. I took the mug back to my room and finally slept.
We were at the funeral home by ten the morning of the funeral. I had been practicing the sonata on my piano and on the one at Daddy's house, but all pianos are different. I wanted to run through it one time on the one at the funeral home.
As the last notes rang out in the chapel, I heard the applause. I looked up to see Bella and Jane standing in the doorway.
"It was beautiful, honey," Bella said as she and Jane walked down the aisle. "Esme would be proud."
"That was amazing," Jane exclaimed. "My sister plays a little and her son has started lessons, but they're nowhere near that good. How long have you played?"
I smiled as I remembered how I didn't want to take lessons, but Momma had insisted. She had said that I would value being able to play an instrument when I was older. She said that it would bring me comfort. She had been right.
"Momma made me start lessons when I was eight. So, I've played for a long time." I pulled Bella down on the bench beside me. "I just never understood why she wanted me to play so badly until now. Was she ever not right?"
"She was very wise," Bella replied.
"I'm beginning to see that. Have you seen all the flowers?" I asked.
"I don't think that you can miss them. They're everywhere."
"I don't think that I've ever seen this many flowers in one place," Jane said as she looked around the room.
"Dad sent a wreath." Bella said as she stood and pulled me up. I followed her to a very large standing arrangement that was placed against the far wall.
"I wish he could be here," I said.
"He does too," Bella said. "But with a dispatcher out on FMLA, a patrolman out of paternity leave and another out on restricted duty, he just couldn't get away."
"Daddy talked to him last night. I think they've become e-mail and telephone buddies."
"Well, they have a few things in common," she said as she squeezed my hand. I nodded and sighed.
The service was to begin at one o'clock. People began to arrive at the chapel at eleven. By twelve, all but the first pews on either side of the aisle were full. There was no more seating, but there were people waiting in the lobby. The funeral director had the staff start bringing in chairs. By the time the family was seated in the front pews, it was standing room only in the chapel and the funeral director was praying that the fire marshal didn't show up.
Momma and Daddy's pastor, Bro. Bill, walked to the lectern and began the service.
"Esme Anne Platt Cullen was born August 18, 1948. She went home to her God on November 21, 2009. She leaves behind her husband, Carlisle, and her son, Edward, her brother and sister-in-law, Emmett and Rosalie Cullen, and her nephew and niece, Jasper and Alice Whitlock, as well as countless friends. Truly, as I look around this room, I know that Esme was loved.
"Many times when people pass, I have to ask the family for information about the deceased. I didn't have to do that for Esme. I knew Esme Cullen and it was a privilege. She was the kindest, most sincere, most giving person I have ever had the pleasure to call my friend.
"Esme was a teacher. She taught second grade at Sand Rock School for thirty –two years. As I mingled with you all before this ceremony, I began to realize that I was in the company of her students. You all had a story about how Esme had touched your lives and made you a better person. Through you all, Esme will live on. You are her legacy.
"Esme didn't just teach at the school, she taught everyday outside of the classroom with how she lived her life. Esme taught me, a pastor, how to be closer to God. She showed me what it truly means to be 'God-like.' Esme didn't just talk the talk; she walked the walk. If there was ever a person on this earth that could be described a 'good,' then Esme was it.
"The wonderful thing about Esme was that she was good, not for show, but because that was who she was. She was a very active member at James Memorial Baptist Church, but she didn't do the things she did, like teach Sunday School or chair committees in the church, for recognition. She did it because she wanted to give of herself.
"I could stand up here for hours and tell you how wonderful Esme was, but you all already know that about her. As I look around this room, I see life after life that she has touched. I can't speak for all of you, but I'm a better person for knowing her.
"This is the part of the eulogy where I'm supposed to quote scripture that applies to the life of the person who has passed, but I'm not going to do that right now. Not because I can't think of any that would apply to Esme, but because there are too many and to choose just a few would not do her life justice. If you want to know which ones applied to Esme and which ones you should use for your own life, I say open any Bible and start reading. Esme lived that book.
"Let us pray... Heavenly Father, we come to You this day with sad hearts. An angel that You sent here to be with us has gone home to You. And though we miss Esme and mourn her passing, we know that she is at Your right hand, Father. We know that the grief we feel is for ourselves, for we have lost one of your true vessels. We know that for Esme, this is a joyous time. She is with You, Father, and there is no more cancer... there is no more chemo therapy... there is no more dialysis. She is at peace with You.
"We ask that You please be with her family as they mourn this loss. Please give them strength in these times. Help them to understand that Esme is with You, Father. Give them the knowledge that they will see her again someday. Please let that knowledge be of some comfort in their time of grief. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen."
As I opened my eyes, I turned to Bella. She was smiling. She leaned over and whispered, "You prayed." I shrugged and managed a weak smile.
Maria walked to the altar and took the microphone from the stand. She began an acapella version of Ave Maria. Her voice was so beautiful that it almost brought me to tears. I looked over at Bella. She was dabbing her eyes. I heard someone behind me mumble, "wow."
We all sat there in silent awe as she finished. She then walked over to the casket and placed her hand on it before she returned to her seat.
Rosalie slowly stood and made her way to the lectern. She paused briefly at Momma's casket and took a shaky breath. I saw her swallow back the lump in her throat. She had a stack of note cards with her. She tapped them on the lectern a couple of times and took a few deep breaths.
When she finally looked up at the crowd, you could obviously see that she had been crying. Her face contorted into a grimace as she tried to hold back the tears. Emmett stood and walked to her side. He put his arm around her and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and took another ragged breath. Emmett stepped back but stayed on the altar as Ro began.
"I met Esme in 1969, when I started dating Emmett. She had been seeing Carlisle for a couple of months. I remember thinking that I had never seen a more beautiful woman in my life. She could have been on a movie screen, she was that breathtaking. I was so intimidated.
"But it was more than an external thing with Ez. She seemed to glow from the inside. She just had this light about her. As intimidated as I was, I was also drawn to her. I wanted to know her and I wanted her to like me. I shouldn't have worried about that, because Ez liked everyone.
"A lot of you know me and you know that I can be a real pain sometimes. I tend to decide really quickly if I like someone or not and I develop my opinions rather quickly as well. I'm usually quite vocal if I don't like someone, to the point of being rude. It's just how I am. I don't have Ez's light.
"Ez was never like me. She never, and I do mean never, said a bad word about anyone. She never thought ill of anyone. She always gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. She and I were complete opposites, but she was still my best friend... my sister.
"She helped me to be a better person. I'm still not as good as she was, but I try harder than I would have if I hadn't known her.
"Ez and I went through a lot together. I was there with her through the miscarriages and the doctors telling her that she'd never have children. Proved them wrong, didn't you, Edward?"
I smiled and shook my head at her.
"She held my hand when Alice came too soon and we thought she wasn't going to make it. We were each other's rock when our husbands just couldn't fully comprehend the pain and the fear.
"I see our red hat girls there in the back." She raised a hand and waved. "Ez and I joined the Red Hat Society a few years ago. I joined for the hats. I've always been a sucker for accessories. Ez joined for the charity work. That was how she did things. She joined groups and participated in functions for the right reasons.
"I have all this stuff written down about Ez, but I don't really know what to say. I loved her. She was an extraordinary woman. She did so much for this community and it's things that she never talked about or that were never really publicized. She just did them. She didn't do it to say 'look at me, look at what I'm doing.' She did it because she felt called to help.
"I think that's what made her so special she didn't need or want the recognition... she just wanted to help. She wanted to make her part of the world... the part she could influence... a better place. I think that she did that. I know that I'm a better person for having her in my life."
I looked around at all of the heads nodding in agreement. Daddy was looking around too; his eyes wide in amazement.
He leaned over to me and said, "I had no idea that she had touched so many lives in such a profound way."
"She was truly remarkable," Bella whispered. "I know that she had a dramatic effect on my life." She squeezed my hand.
Rosalie and Emmett stepped down from the altar. Rosalie sat next to Daddy and put her arm around his shoulders. Daddy looked at me and I knew that it was my turn. I took a deep breath and squeezed Bella's hand. She bent down and retrieved an item from her purse. She placed it in my hand as I stood to walk to the lectern.
I turned and faced the crowd that had assembled to pay their respects. I placed the coffee mug on the lectern and turned it so that everyone could read what I had painted on the side so long ago.
I cleared my throat and began. "I made that in the sixth grade. I took home-ec to meet girls." A few people giggled. "I was kind of geeky and Momma thought that if I was around girls, then I would come out of my shell. We had to paint these mugs. It wasn't for Mother's Day or anything. We could paint whatever we wanted on them. I don't remember why I was thinking that Momma was the best in the world... she had probably done something for me... I can't remember.
"I found this in her kitchen cabinet last night. She kept it all these years." I picked it up and looked at it. "The 'bestest' was our little joke. But really, if there was a word to describe her, it would be that. She was better than the best. I've heard so many adjective these last couple of days trying to describe her and her influence on the people around her, but none of them really came close until I saw this mug last night.
"I've heard you all say how fortunate you were to have known her and how she helped you and encouraged you. Imagine being her kid. She never told me that I couldn't do something. If I said that I wanted to be a fireman, then she'd say that I'd be the best one ever. When I wanted to play football, she told me that I'd be great at it, even though I'd only touched a football twice in my life. When I said that I wanted to be a lawyer, she told me that she thought it was a wonderful decision.
"That's just the way she was. She never told me that I couldn't be anything I wanted to be. She never told me that there was something that I couldn't do. She's the reason that I've accomplished all that I have. It's because I was always told that I could. She made me believe that I could do anything.
"A few weeks before she died, Momma asked me to play a song for her on my piano. I hadn't played for anyone in a long time and I didn't really think that I would be able to play anything worth a crap, but she said that she knew that I could do it. She had faith in me, so I played. She asked me to play the composition here... now. I still don't think that I'll pull this off, but if Momma thinks that I can do it... then I can. As long as Momma believes in me, I can do anything."
I placed the mug back on the lectern and moved to the piano that was behind me on the altar. I cracked my knuckles and took another cleansing breath. "For you, Momma," I whispered as I placed my hands on the keys.
As the first notes of the sonata rang out from the piano, I felt a presence beside me. I glanced quickly to my right, but no one was there. A feeling of calm descended over me and the notes just seemed to flow through me and out my fingers.
I lost myself in the music. I didn't even notice as the tears began to course down my cheeks. All I could think was that I was playing for my momma for the last time. I poured my soul and all my grief into that sonata.
I was so into the music that I didn't notice the people in the room with me. I didn't notice as they all began to cry with me. I didn't notice as they all shared the emotions that were flowing through me and out that piano.
I played the last notes and placed my hands on my lap. I stared down at the keys and hoped that I had done Beethoven justice. I hoped that I had made Momma proud.
I must have sat there for a while, because I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and into Bella's tear-stained face.
"It was beautiful," she whispered as she helped me to my feet. She placed a tissue in my hand. I wiped my face and walked to my seat.
Bro. Bill returned to the altar and said, "I think that we all have been touched in some way by Esme Cullen and we are all better for it. This concludes this portion of the service. We will continue at the graveside. The family asks that you all join them at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church for the interment."
People began to file out of the sanctuaries. The family, including the newest addition, Marcus and Jane, gathered around Momma's casket for one last viewing. Daddy reached blindly for my hand. He squeezed it as his mouth twisted into a grimace.
"It's okay, Daddy. Let it out," I said.
"No," he whispered. "She told me to be strong for you… and for her. She told me that she's gone to a better place… a happier place, where there's no pain. She told me that I'd see her again; she'll be waiting for me. I don't want to cry anymore. The tears aren't for her, they're for me."
"What do you mean?" Jane asked.
"I'm sad and lonely. A piece of my heart is missing. My tears are for me. Esme isn't in pain anymore. She isn't sick. She's whole. She sheds no tears and neither should I. I am happy that she is at peace. That means no more tears of grief. Now I just have to wait until I can see her again."
"And you will… see her again," Bella said as she wrapped an arm around Daddy's shoulders. "When it's your time, she will be there to welcome you home."
We left the sanctuary and got into our cars. Daddy, Bella, and I were in the lead car. We had requested a police escort and it's a good thing that we did. The procession to the cemetery was several miles long.
Parking became a premium when we arrived at the church. Pisgah is a small country church. Many centuries ago, Monroe Cullen donated the land for the church and the cemetery. The only stipulation was that all Cullen men, from then until eternity, would receive two cemetery plots; one for themselves and one for their spouse. Momma would be placed in the Cullen section of the cemetery in one of Daddy's two plots.
The parking lot quickly filled as did the roadsides through the cemetery. People began to park along Tabor Road. The sheriffs stayed to conduct traffic through the area.
The family took their seats by the grave as the casket was brought in and set in place. Bro. Bill stood at the head of the casket.
When everyone had assembled, Bro. Bill began. "Let us pray. Heavenly Father, we come to you today in conflict. Should we mourn the passing of this extraordinary woman or should we rejoice that she has gone home to you? I do both, Lord. I mourn that I will no longer have deep, thought-provoking and highly educational conversations with a woman that I respected so greatly. I mourn that her family will not be able to continue to learn from her as I know that there was more that she could have taught them. I mourn that the community has lost a patron and that her contributions will be so greatly missed.
"But I also rejoice her passing, Father. I know without a doubt that Esme is with You. I know that Your plan for her on this earth is complete and that she will continue her work at Your side. I know that she is no longer suffering from cancer and that she feels no pain in Your arms. And I know that I will meet her again one day in Heaven. For all these things I rejoice and I take comfort in the knowledge that You and Your angels are rejoicing as well now that Your earthly angel, Esme Cullen, is home. In Jesus' name… Amen."
Bella reached over and placed her hand on my knee. I covered it with my hand. I took a deep breath and swallowed back the lump in my throat. I turned to her and nodded. I was okay. I was going to be okay.
Bro. Bill continued. "I know that the family is grateful that you are all here. The love and support that you have shown them at this time is astounding to them. They had no idea that Esme had touched so many lives in such profound ways. They ask that you join them in the church fellowship hall for a small reception during the final interment."
The crowd began to disperse and make their way to the church. Daddy and I didn't move. I felt Bella's hand on my shoulder. When I looked up, I saw that she, Ro, Em, Alice, and Jasper were standing there watching us. I glanced at Daddy. He was staring forlornly at the casket as they lowered it into the ground. I turned back to my family and nodded for them to go ahead to the fellowship hall. We would be along later.
I reached over and took Daddy's hand. He blinked and looked up at me. I saw the tears in his eyes. He was barely holding them at bay.
"I'm going to make it really pretty here for her," he said. "I'm having the entire grave bordered by marble. I'm going to get that small, white gravel put in the border. I thought that I could put a tulip tree by her side of the headstone. She so loved the one that's in the front yard. What do you think?"
"That sounds nice," I replied.
They finished lowering the casket into the ground as we sat there in silence. I started to gnaw at the corner of my mouth.
Daddy reached over and swatted my knee. "Cut it out."
I chuckled. "So that's your job now, huh?"
He looked up at me and said, "It was never a job to her. It all came natural. She was a mother to us all."
The next day was Thanksgiving, but we didn't really feel like celebrating. I was finding it hard to be thankful that year. We all ended up at Aunt Ro and Uncle Em's house. Alice put together a meal. It wasn't traditional, but that was fine. We were all just trying to hold it together.
Christmas wasn't much better. We spent it at Ro and Em's again. Alice and Ro had taken Momma shopping before she went downhill. They gave us all our presents from Momma. She knew that it would either be her last Christmas or that she wouldn't make it there at all. We each got a book about losing a loved one and a journal. She had written a letter to each of us in the journals. Daddy read the first page of his and had to leave the room. We didn't see him for several hours. When he came back, we could tell that he had been crying. He wasn't alone.
Life went on for us, but there was a noticeable hole in the family. We all missed Momma terribly. Rosalie told me that she would see a ring in a jewelry store and would instinctively grab her phone to call Momma. Suzy's hair began to fall out so Daddy took her to the vet. Apparently, she became so depressed that she started to go bald. Have you ever seen a balding Pomeranian? It's actually kind of sad. She looked like a long-haired Chihuahua. Daddy had to start giving her Prozac.
Things moved on. Things changed. People changed. I changed.
I had come to realize something is the months and weeks that Momma battled MCL. I'm not an atheist or an agnostic. It's not that I don't believe in God or a higher power. I just don't believe that any one religion has it completely right.
I guess you could say that I'm anti-organized religion.
I think Momma actually had the inside track on this Christianity thing. It isn't what church you go to or what tenants of the Bible you believe. It's about being as good a person as you can be. It's about treating the people in your life with respect. It's about giving of yourself for no other reason than it's the right thing to do.
It's about being and doing good.
And, yes, I pray. Praying isn't asking God to do things for you or to give you things. It's like the power of positive thinking. I pray for the strength to be the person Momma wanted me to be. I pray for the ability to help my family through this. I pray for peace… not world peace, but peace in my heart.
Jasper says that I finally put my hands on it. I think that I just got enough facts to wrap my mind around it. Regardless, I'm on the path Momma wanted for me. I thank Bella for taking my hand and leading me to it.
One Year Later – Christmas 2010
I walked across the cemetery to Momma's grave. It was unusually cold for Alabama. I had on the heaviest coat that I owned, which wasn't all that heavy, zipped all the way up. I was still freezing.
I could hear and feel the dead, frozen grass crunching under my feet. It had frosted the night before. I looked up at the sky and prayed that it wouldn't rain. Rain would mean an ice storm, which would make the roads impassable… especially up the mountain.
I placed the flowers I had brought near Momma's headstone. There wasn't much room. Daddy had been there already as well as many of Momma's friends. I sat down on the bench that Daddy had put at the side of the grave. I knew that he came here often to talk to her, just like I had come that day.
"Hey, Momma," I began. "Do ya think that you could have a little talk with the All Mighty? It's unbearably cold down here. You know how thin my blood is. I'm freezing!
"We miss you, but you know that already. Daddy's doing much better. He's joined a men's group at the church. It sounds a lot like your red hat group. They eat breakfast and, from what I can tell, they gossip. It's kind of funny actually.
"Ro and Emmett are talking about retiring. I can see Emmett quitting and taking it easy, but Ro… I just don't see it. She'll get bored. Then again in a few months she'll have something to keep her busy.
"Alice and Jasper are pregnant. Well, Alice is pregnant. She's due in April. I keep pushing for her to induce on the ninth. She keeps telling me to shove it.
"I'm doing okay. I went to church with Daddy at Easter; Bella and I did that is. We're going with him tomorrow too. You were right, Momma. Having just a little faith in a higher power is a comfort. Knowing that you're somewhere waiting for us to join you makes it easier to bear.
"I miss you so much, Momma. I'm trying really hard to be what you wanted me to be. I'm trying to hold us all together. Bella helps. She and Alice made a great Thanksgiving dinner for us last month. They're going to do Christmas dinner tomorrow. The Whitlocks are going to come over, so we'll all be together. Charlie's coming too. He's bringing his girlfriend and her daughter. We're making it work, but it's hard. You made it all look so easy."
I reached into my pocket and pulled out Momma's engagement ring.
"I talked to Charlie a few weeks ago. I'm going to ask Bella to marry me. He gave me his blessing. I wish you could be here, Momma. I'm going to give her your ring. Maybe one day, we can give it to our daughter and tell her what an amazing woman her grandmother was."
I turned the ring over in my hand a few times. I started to chew the side of my mouth, but caught myself.
"You know what I miss the most about you being gone, Momma? I miss you keeping me in line. It annoyed the hell out of me when you were here, but it's the thing I miss the most."
I looked at the diamond in the ring. "I know why Daddy wanted the diamond to be perfect. You deserved no less. Bella is so much like you, Momma. She's kind and patient, but she doesn't cut me any slack either. She's so good to me and Daddy. I'm really lucky to have her."
I stood and put the ring back in my pocket. "I should go. Bella's picking Charlie up at the airport and I want to be there when they get back."
I kissed my fingertips and touched Momma's headstone. "I hope she says 'yes.'"
I began writing Have a Little Faith when my mother was in the hospital with kidney failure. Every day the doctors would come in and tell us that it was her last. I wanted to chronicle her life… pay homage to a great woman.
You see, most of this story is true. My mother has mantle cell lymphoma. She was diagnosed in October of 2008 when she went in for routine blood work. Her only symptom was that she felt overly tired, but she attributed that to age.
The doctors told her that without treatment she could expect to live anywhere from six months to three years; with treatment she could expect to live anywhere from six months to three years. That's not a typo. They basically gave her a death sentence.
Her oncologist, Dr. Gore, scheduled for her to see the doctor's at M.D. Anderson in Texas. They are the only hospital that has developed a treatment, The Anderson Protocol. It is just a treatment… there is no cure. She and my father left two days later.
My mother has been receiving The Anderson Protocol since January of 2009. It is an extremely high dose of chemotherapy, administered every other week. She sits in the chemo chair for seven hours to receive this treatment. It leaves her tired and sick for two days afterward.
In September of 2010, my father rushed my mother to the emergency room at St. Vincent's Hospital in Birmingham because her whole body was swollen. Her kidneys had failed. After numerous tests and a screw up by a doctor (I wrote it like it happened.), it was determined that she had had an adverse reaction to Advil.
The problem was that the chemo is filtered through her kidneys. Without kidney function, the treatment would have to stop. Mother went on dialysis and people began to pray.
This is why the story is titled the way that it is and why Edward had to go through that journey. I am Edward. I didn't believe in religion or prayer. I didn't have faith until I saw it in action.
My mother is loved by many people. She has touched many lives. And all of those people began to pray. Prayer groups were started. The nurses in the hospital fell in love with her and they began to pray with her.
The doctors told us that her kidneys would never work again. Today she has 80% function and is able to take the chemo treatment once a month.
Last October Mother hit the three year mark. The doctors told her that she would be dead now. She isn't. And another thing that has the doctors stumped is that she's relatively healthy.
She is not cured. She will never be cured, but the MCL is not growing. It is not spreading. She's still with us.
You can't tell me now that there isn't power in prayer.
Thank you for reading our story. I hope it touched your life in some way. I pray that it gives you hope… and faith.