RIP Judith Archer
(originally posted 5/27/2013)
At first the Funeral Director thought it was a pale handkerchief the woman was clutching in her hands but as he leaned in to get a closer look it turned out to be a folded note, the paper yellowing with age. It was as crinkly and worn as the skin on the hands that clutched it. It was not unusual for people to be holding items as they begin their last journey; jewelry, keepsakes and even sports memorabilia. The Funeral Director made it a point never to disturb these items even though nobody would ever know. He had a deep respect for his position of trust within the community and would never violate that.
But there was something about the way this note was cradled. Even as he prepared the corpse for the wake he felt a longing in the woman. A secret. Obviously her final instructions had included this note being placed in her hands before the coffin door swung shut. Once he started to wonder what was written on the paper he couldn’t help himself.
He lifted a hand and slowly slid the aging paper out. Gently he unfolded it and began to read.
We never met but I have a confession of sorts to make. I wish we had met and that we knew each other intimately but alas it wasn’t to be and I can’t help but feel that it is my fault. You see, I killed your son. I know that he died in the war but I killed him as surely as if I was the German holding the rifle.
There was a woman, older and wiser than I, and she tried to warn me. To warn everyone. As we danced and sang with the boys before they shipped off to fight. She would glare at us and scold us and tell us that we were going to get these boys killed. At the time, under the colored lights and bright crepe paper, the band playing and the room spinning, none of us paid her much mind. “The ones that are loved don’t come back” she would hiss at us. “Tell a boy you love them and you’ve doomed them.” She would get this look in her eyes, all empty and cold and a part of me started to believe her. But I was younger and full of wild emotions and then I met your son. I don’t have to tell you how handsome he was and such a gentleman. I fell hard and in the weeks before he was deployed I would stand and wait for him to arrive at the hall with such anticipation.
I felt I loved him with a certainty I’d never felt before.
That woman, the crazy one with the sad eyes, would always be there too. Chasing the girls away that dared to get too close to a certain boy. Always with the same refrain about “only the unloved ones come back.” Finally I approached her and asked what she meant… how she knew. “The same way every widow learns. From experience. If you tell a man you love him before he leaves you’ve killed him.”
And at that moment I believed her. So I never told your son. I never said it, the words couldn’t leave my lips because I loved him too much. I tried to hide it but that last night I cried and shook in his arms and I was weak and I must have let it slip somehow because six weeks later he was dead.
I’m so sorry. I swear I didn’t say it, but maybe you don’t need to. I don’t know how it works. All I know is that I did love him and he did die and I’d been warned and I didn’t listen and now your son is dead.
I wish I had the courage to tell this to your face. To meet you and talk about what might have been. But I don’t. I look in the mirror now and I see the same shadow behind my eyes as that crazy woman had and feel I’ve been cursed.
I only hope now that you can somehow forgive me. God bless you.