I could scarcely concentrate over the next few days as I watched my boy heal. He was so fragile, both emotionally and physically. He did not mention Jilly again. At the time, I felt relieved, like that was okay because I didn’t want to talk about her either. But looking back, I can see that I was very wrong and even selfish.
Liev and I weren’t…. what weren’t we? We weren’t talking. We weren’t looking at each other. We weren’t fighting. We just… weren’t.
Two days ago, we reluctantly went to the funeral home. The funeral director, Mr. Johnson, was very nice and sympathetic. I knew my duty was to make sure that Jilly had what she deserved. Daylynn and Rachel were saying goodbye. We were all saying goodbye. In my heart, I wanted Jilly to have the best.
But neither Liev nor I could select anything. Doing this horrible thing was more than we could bear.
When I explained to Keniesha, she said, “Memphis, this is the last best thing you can do for Jilly.” I didn’t have an answer to that, so she took things into her own hands and called the funeral home to make another appointment. I was so grateful that she went with us. She did all the talking. And all of the selecting. Liev and I sat there like lumps, unable to wrap our minds around our sorrow.
The emptiness was mind numbing.
I’ve cried so much. Just when I think I can’t cry anymore, the tears flow once again. Liev began to take a lot of walks at the beach. I wish I could have made myself go with him, but it was just too hard to muster the strength to even smile, let alone go for a walk.
Late one night, I was looking at my scrapbook/journal. That’s when I found the pages Jilly made. Her neat handwriting, the sweet little doodles, the hearts… it all accosted me as if I’d been slapped in the face. My eyes stung yet again as I read and it was if we were at the coffee shop again. I could even hear her chattering away.
Why hadn’t I cherished that day with her more? If I closed my eyes, I could smell the coffee I was sipping and hear her voice. But did I really want to return to that moment in time? Yes and no. The moment I really wanted to go back to was when I stupidly told Leo and Jilly they could go to the comic book store.
I slammed the scrapbook closed and threw it to the floor.
How do you get through something like this? You always hear people say that no one should outlive their children. Oh, how true that is! But I just never understood until now what the full meaning of that statement meant. Not once had I ever thought I would be one of the people thinking that very thing!
The day we dreaded came as any other day. But it wasn’t just any other day.
We went to the hospital early that morning because Leo was being discharged. Liev and I had broken our silence to discuss whether Leo should go to the funeral. I didn’t want want him to go, but Liev insisted it was important.
Liev had always been level headed before and I didn’t have the strength to fight.
As expected, Leo protested, his head in his hands. He begged us not to make him go. Liev spoke to him in that soft, patient voice of his about the importance of telling Jilly goodbye.
I wanted to hug my boy to me and tell him I understood how he felt, but my feet felt glued in place. What kind of mother was I that I could see the distress in my son but do nothing about it?
Finally, Liev was able to persuade him and we settled him into the car, trying to make him as comfortable as we could.
At the cemetery, Liev and I settled into our chairs. I could see him watching me as I turned my face from her casket.
He continued to look at me but didn’t say anything.
I kept my face covered with a gloved hand, willing this day to be over.
Leo struggled for a moment to get out of the wheelchair. I watched him, still unable to move, a lump in my throat as he sat next to the casket, burying his face in his arms. My chest began to throb; my heart felt like it had been cut open and was bleeding. I wanted to go to him, to wrap my arms around him and comfort him, but it was as if I was paralyzed.
Liev turned to me again, a questioning, helpless look on his face. Neither of us knew what to do.
Then Reverend Prucher began…
“Thank you all for joining us here today, even though I’m sure all of us wish we were meeting for a celebration rather than for mourning. None of us ever imagined we would be here. No one envisions they will be saying goodbye forever to a child, much less to their own child. There is nothing that could be crueler or more unfair.”
“Jillian Day Capra was a gifted, imaginative and intelligent girl. She loved to build sandcastles and toast marshmallows. She loved to tease and spend time with her siblings, take walks with her father and have what she called ‘girl days’ with her mother. She had hopes and dreams of helping others by serving them as a physician. Jillian loved her family and friends deeply and had a beautiful spirit. She loved spending time at the beach. She delighted in seeing the sun shimmering on the water and feeling the sand between her toes. When she was swimming and lying in the sun, she was at peace.
And now, friends, we seek to find peace. We grieve over a life cut so tragically short.”
“We offer our support to Jillian’s family who cannot believe she is gone. We gather for her parents Memphis and Liev, her twin brother Leonardo and her sisters Daylynn and Rachel.”
We are here for her Aunt Keniesha and her cousins…
“We come here to acknowledge this difficult truth and to remember her cheerful and generous nature. We come here to find comfort from one another.
We may not understand why this had to happen, but, Memphis, Liev, our hearts go out to you and your family for the terrible hardship you bear today and will continue to bear in the coming days.
At this moment, it’s hard to speak of comfort. But in the days ahead, as we remember Jillian, I hope we’ll all gain strength from knowing how much of an effect she had on us in the short time we knew her.”
It was around this time that I glanced toward Liev only to see an empty chair. I’d been so lost in my own thoughts of emptiness that I hadn’t realized he’d gone.
My eyes moved from the chair to the casket. Liev was sitting on the ground in his suit, his arms around Leo whose head was still down. I watched them for what seemed an eternity. It was as if they were in their own world.
As much as I had professed to love my children… why hadn’t it been me who had gone to him? Guilt washed over me like a wave. I was his mother. Leo should be resting in my arms right now being comforted by me.
Neither appeared to speak, but there was an obvious bond between them. Even through my guilt of not having been the one to go to Leo, I silently prayed he was drawing comfort from his father.
“Memphis, Liev, you should be very proud of your sweet angel. Wherever she went, she made everyone smile and forget their problems. She was a joy to be around and a testament to the good parenting you provided.
Jillian Day Capra’s life was taken away suddenly, in one careless moment. We are still numb. We need to grieve and heal.
But death has its own plans. There is no agreeable time to die. How can we make sense of a life cut so short? Perhaps a life should be measured not by how long a person lived but by the number of people that were touched by that life.
We are all so blessed to have had Jillian in our lives. As long as we carry her in our memory, she will never truly be gone from us.”
“I would like to close with a poem*.
If tears could build a stairway
and thoughts a memory lane
I’d walk right up to heaven
and bring you home again
No Farewell words were spoken
No time to say goodbye
You were gone before I knew it
And only God knows why.
My heart still aches with sadness
And secret tears still flow
What it meant to lose you
No one can ever know.
But now I know you want us
To mourn for you no more
To remember all the happy times
Life still has much in store.
Since you’ll never be forgotten
I pledge to you today
A hallowed place within my heart
Is where you’ll always stay.
God knows why, with chilling touch,
Death gathers those we love so much,
And what now seems so strange and dim,
Will all be clear, when we meet Him.
I Knew you for a Moment
When you think of Jillian, remember the sweet girl who had a hunger for knowledge and who wanted to help others. Remember her smiles and her laughter. Remember that she is now at peace.”
After the ceremony, people said the usual things you expect to hear. It all felt so surreal as I provided the proper answers one would expect from a grieving mother.
When Keniesha hugged me, I whispered, “Thank you for everything you’ve done. It means so much.”
She held me closer and patted my back lightly like one does to a baby, “I’m here for you, Sis.”
When I turned around, Liev had helped Leo back into the wheelchair. Something in his eyes, the way he was regarding me, made me feel defensive.
“What?” I asked a little too sharply.
“I just don’t understand why you weren’t over there with Leo, too.”
Was he really saying this to me right here and right now? I felt prickles on my neck as what he said sunk in.
“Are you saying I don’t care about my own son?” I tried not to let it, but my voice felt like it was three octaves higher than normal.
Liev’s face turned bright red and suddenly, he threw his hands up in the air, raising his voice as well.
“I would never say that! I just don’t understand why you’ve been so standoffish from him? He needs us both!”
“Standoffish?” I yelled. “How could you say that to me? My child is dead! This is her funeral, and you think I can concentrate on anything else?”
All at once, his lips curled away from his teeth and he was angrier than I’d ever seen him. He actually snarled at me. “My child is dead, too! Don’t you think this is one time you could stop being so self-absorbed and realize your son needs you?”
“Now I’m self-absorbed, too! That’s rich coming from the guy that disappears for hours every night, leaving us to deal with all of this on our own! I have sat with him every waking moment in the hospital. Where were you?”
“It’s not like I haven’t asked you to come with me to Jilly’s favorite spot on the beach! You didn’t have to stay behind and feel sorry for yourself. You think you’re sitting with him in the hospital was comforting? Don’t make me sick! You haven’t even talked to Leo about his sister!”
“Just admit it, Liev, you blame me for everything! You blame me for letting Leo drive that day!”
While we argued like the stupid people we were, Leo still sat near the casket with his head down. I can’t explain why seeing him there didn’t stop us from acting like idiots. This is another moment I wish I could go back and change.
From a few feet away, Keniesha decided she’d had enough. I’m so glad she’s my sister and that she isn’t afraid to step in.
“Have the two of you lost your damn fool minds?” Keniesha roared, immediately sending us into a silent stupor. “You two are acting like selfish morons. I’ve never seen anything as horrible as this!”
My husband and I glanced at each other and knew that all we’d done is make things worse for everyone.
“I’m sorry, kid. Let’s go home.”
I watched helplessly as Liev pushed the wheelchair to the car and helped Leo inside to go home.
What had we done? What was I doing?
Liev had never spoken to me like that. Some of it seemed to be irrational, but yet, so much of it hadn’t been. I was hurting him and I wanted to stop, but I wasn’t sure how.
Daylynn and Rachel were climbing into the car now and I had barely acknowledged them since the accident. Keniesha had been looking after them and I didn’t even know if the poor girls truly understood what had happened. When I tried to imagine this from their point of view, I was horrified by the realization that they probably felt as if they’d lost not only Jilly, but Leo and their parents as well as they’d been abruptly shipped off to their aunt’s house because we’d all been away at the hospital.
While I knew Keniesha was taking good care of them, I now realized how badly I’d handled just about everything.
My marriage and my family were slipping through my fingers like sand and there was no way to catch it.
The thought of losing my husband was more than I could bear. We’d never been at such odds with one another.
Somehow, I had to claw my way out of this quicksand I was sinking into.
*Author’s Note: “If Tears Could Build a Stairway” was originally written by Paula Davis in May 2004 after her younger brother died. Since then, variations of the original have been floating around the internet with the infamous “Author Unknown” attached to it. This is one of the variations of the original.
The little poem in the memorial card is an epitaph from a grave stone in Sutcombe Churchyard, Devon.