I sit down at the dinner table to the question, “Mom, why did you cry at the funeral today?”
It is Zaviera asking because apparently she’s become quite the ‘tracker’ of events, people, all kinds of things.
Sol interrupts. “Wait, I know. I was listening when Mom was saying goodbye to her. I tuned all the other stuff out but I listened to mom.”
He pauses and pieces the best of it together for himself.
“You said something about Aunty Vivienne spending a lot of time teaching you about the inheritance of your new family, the Clarkes, and that she helped you understand things that you were scared about, that were making you sick.”
I tell him, yes, that this is sort of what I said.
I want to explain all of it, all at once. But I don’t know where to start easily.
I can’t explain the love that washed through me again and again as I stood with family and reconnected, shared stories, gave thanks for Vivienne’s life. There was such a spirit of laughter in the sharing; a great love and joy because that is what Vivienne gathered to her. I want to tell him about the birds, the miracles small and large that Vivienne has scattered in her departure but that’s no place to start at all.
“When you were first born,” I say, “she spent a lot of time seeing us and knowing us. She would come sit at our table or on our couch and spend hours with us. She really loved and knew each one of you because it was important to her. She told me everything she knew about daddy’s dad, Noel, her brother. She saw a lot of Noel in you, Sol, and she had a real love for you. She helped me to understand Noel because I’d never had a chance to meet him myself. When she started reading my writing and spending more time talking with me about my writing, faith, and life, she helped me to understand that I feel other people’s feelings, like she did. When people I love hurt I can sometimes carry that hurt around with me in my body.”
Joaquin looks up from his plate and says, “I felt a lot of sadness today too, mom.”
I nod, “Yes, you did.”
Because he did.
When the men brought Vivienne in her casket the day was so bright with a special kind of light that it all felt a little blinding. I saw Joaquin wander into a shadow, look up, register the white casket, his daddy helping to carry it and say, “Oh jeez. This is when it gets real. This is when the body goes into the ground and there’s the dead thing.”
No one heard him but me and I was too far away to acknowledge his observation but I watched him step in stride with the other cousins, all of them gathering to the edge of the grave, whispering to one another, throwing their sprigs of rosemary on to Viv’s casket, and I knew my youngest was feeling all of the sadness that is the best kind of sadness; a sadness that is beautiful and bright because all of us have been made better by love.
Sol seems satisfied with my answer and so we discuss other stories. They tell me about meeting a new cousin and the adventures they’ve had.
When the children are settled and the noise of the house grows to a gentle hum, I sift through the books Vivienne gifted us.
Vivienne and I had some good long talks about my writing, my praying, my basic being-me-ness in this world, and so as I pick up each book, I hold it to my chest.
There are a few in particular that I hug extra long.
I don’t doubt that I can feel the great soft presence of her spirit surrounding me, that laugh of hers passing from her heart to mine.
I don’t doubt as I sort through the collection, I can hear her guiding me, teacher-to-teacher, as to what books might be best for what use. I can hear speaking to me, artist-to-artist, Clarke woman-to-Clarke woman.
I can feel the glint of her spirit in my spirit, in the same way I used to feel it looking into her eyes.
I open each book, touch its pages, inhale its scent.
I catch Dan watching me and I say, “There is a lot of her life in these books, a lot of wisdom and love to be inherited.”
And then there are those bright, beautiful tears in my eyes again as it is all welling up in my heart, the best kind of sadness.
We are so grateful to you, Vivienne.
Now and forevermore.