The girls chatted in the car; they'd not done what was next. I knew, though. It was like that moment last Thursday afternoon, just prior to telling my daughter of the news of her friend's death. That moment before adding one of life's truly hard experiences into a formerly innocent life. The moment a parent doesn't even think to dread when her child is little.
We went in to the funeral home and saw their teachers from Junior High. All in a cluster, teary eyed and reaching out to the girls, telling them how grown-up they looked, how beautiful. And then on into the viewing room. Into some other reality, standing in a line of people who are all either crying or staring up at the ceiling trying not to. Inching toward what cannot possibly be real. A still, young girl wearing her Homecoming dress. The one she was supposed to wear this Saturday.
The girls move forward. Touching the pictures on the easels. Holding their tissues and each other. Wearing the t-shirts that they'd made a couple of days earlier, saying in the colors lime green and purple - her colors - that they would love her always. That they would never forget her.
I remember the first time someone my age died. Junior year in high school, a couple of years ahead of where they are now. We weren't close, but I still remember his name and always will. He was the first to go home.
We approach her family - there is nothing to say in such a situation. If the pain were smaller, there would be words that could contain or somehow control it. But there are not, because the death of an only child - or any child - doesn't come with appropriate words. "I'm sorry" is all that comes out through the immense thing that has lodged itself in my throat, disabling my vocal chords.
Her father hugs my daughter and her friends. He tells them the truth - which is that we will see her again. We are Christians so we will. The separation, however, is agonizing. We were created by God to not only worship Him, but to love and to live with each other. Which is the truth too.
Tomorrow is Wednesday and the funeral. The third of the triad of experiences. The finding out, the viewing, and then the formal saying good bye. And then, starting Thursday, there is the rest. The living without. Sitting with a different lunch buddy. Not getting texts from her when she gets to school. Not hearing her laugh or seeing her smile. Learning to breathe past the hitch in your throat - to keep going. Which they will all do. And the rest of the world will go on around them as if nothing had happened.
My daughter is growing up. Sometimes I don't see it when it happens and just realize later that she's taller or more mature or somehow older. Mostly, this growing up makes me rejoice. Although I pretend to be sad about her being as tall as me, or the same shoe size, or entering high school, the reality is that I want her to thrive. To grow up into the wonderful young woman I know she will be.
I just wish, like every parent, that I could wrap her in cotton wool, mark her with a "Fragile" sign, and protect her from pain. But, I can't and so I'll do what mothers do. Walk beside her, holding a box of Kleenex, and praying for God's protection and grace over her all the days of her life.