Chapter 18: Love and Loss
“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”—Rumi
[Thursday, January 3, 2013]
It was cold and windy, but the sun was bright on the morning that Adele Stackhouse’s body was laid to rest right next to her husband, Earl. Her daughter, Linda, was on the other side of her, and her son, Corbett was next to his father. Eric couldn’t help but to feel the tragedy of the fact that Adele had lost both of her children and her husband before she’d died.
He held Sookie a little tighter to his side, wondering if he’d be strong enough to go on if he lost her and the children he hoped to one day have with her. As if reading his mind, Sookie tightened her hold on him as well.
Eric looked at the three newest headstones in the Stackhouse family burial plot: Sookie’s father, grandfather, and aunt. Adele’s grave marker wouldn’t be added until later, but Sookie and he had already learned what Adele had arranged to be on her headstone. The inscription would include her full name as well as the years of her life. And it would have a simple epitaph: “Resting with those she loved.”
Eric sighed. The funeral service had certainly honored Adele’s life, but it had been difficult for him in ways he couldn’t have foreseen. Being with Sookie had opened him up—and, for months, he’d been experiencing a myriad of emotions for the first time. Thus, at the funeral, he’d found himself feeling—facing—loss fully. He’d lost several people during his life: his mother, his grandfathers, and Godric. But—even during Godric’s funeral—he’d managed to keep his emotions at bay. Before Sookie, he’d kept himself detached from the people in his life; thus, he’d been able to stay detached when he lost them.
But he was learning that his detachment had been a myth. Just because he’d not let himself experience his grief in the past didn’t mean that it hadn’t stayed with him. He’d felt it flowing through him as the minister and Adele’s friends had shared stories about her life. Now that he felt alive—because of Sookie, he grasped the meaning of “life” in a way he hadn’t before. He felt loss as he hadn’t been capable of before.
Eric found himself wondering about the lives of those who had already been lost to him. Had they been happy? Had they slipped into their deaths with peaceful looks on their faces as Gran had? He hoped so. He also hoped that they, too, rested with those they loved.
He thought about how Adele’s epitaph also applied to the life he had left to live. Eric had learned—quite recently—that it was so much better to allow himself to “rest” in love, as opposed to avoiding it at all costs.
Eric looked again at the headstones already in place. He’d always equated love with loss; after all, he’d felt loss again and again every time he’d yearned for his father’s love and not gotten it. Maybe loss and love were, indeed, inseparable companions—no matter the situation. Adele had lost so many people she loved, yet she’d—bravely—continued to “rest” in her love. Moreover, she’d fought to keep that love “living”—even through her loss of it.
In fact, the last job that she’d given him—to take care of Sookie—had been an act of love on her part.
An act of mitigating loss with love.
But he realized that her act hadn’t been just for Sookie. In giving him his task, Adele had made sure that he wouldn’t be able to “detach”—not from Sookie and not from himself. Gran had somehow intuited that his reaction to loss in the past had been disconnection—separation. But she’d made him promise to take care of Sookie, and—in so doing—she’d required that he stay “resting” in his love, rather than isolating himself from it.
Even through her death, Adele had taught him that love and loss would always exist together; it was his reaction to the two that could vary. Detachment or feeling? Numbness or pain? Isolation or love?
He sighed as Sookie leaned her head against his upper arm. He’d made his choice. He was willing to face the truth that he might lose the woman next to him one day, though he couldn’t help but to hope that death would take them both at the same moment. But nothing—not even death itself—would stop the love he felt for her. He vowed never to numb himself to the feelings that he and Sookie had created together—to the life they were building. The feelings he had for her would “rest” inside of his body even when he was resting in the ground.
He looked at the casket that held Adele’s body and silently thanked the woman who had helped him to love Sookie just a little more—just a little better. He promised that he would continue to do the “job” Gran had given him: he would take care of Sookie to the best of his ability—always.
His beloved had had her own “job” to perform at the funeral, and Eric couldn’t help but to be proud of the way she was holding up. Even amidst her grief, she’d had to greet and accept condolences from the many residents of Bon Temps and New Orleans who had come to pay their respects to Adele. There had been a church full of people, and Eric had been grateful that most of them had appeared sincere in their grief. However, a few people obviously came to the funeral only to gossip. Eric had tried to keep his body between Sookie and the disingenuous—so that she wouldn’t have to read any hurtful words emanating from their lips.
Mercifully, Michelle Stackhouse had proven her greed by not showing up—either to the funeral or to the burial service. Jason had, however, come to both.
Though also sitting in the front row, Jason was across from Eric and Sookie—on the other side of Gran’s grave. Similarly, he’d been on the other side of the aisle from them at the church. Thankfully, Sookie had been too caught up in her grief to notice the nasty looks that he continuously leveled at her; otherwise, Eric would have been tempted to beat the malevolent expressions off of his face.
Eric looked around at the little crowd which had gathered at the graveside and was glad to see many of Sookie and his closest friends and allies. Amelia had flown in the night before, as had Henry, who certainly acted more like Sookie’s brother than her real one. In fact, on the rare occasions when Eric had needed to leave Sookie’s side, Henry always seemed at the ready to be her leaning post if need be.
Mormor had surprised them by arriving the previous morning, and she’d been a godsend. Initially, she’d been concerned that her presence might remind Sookie too much of Gran, but a little “mothering” had been exactly what both Sookie and he had needed—as it turned out. Mormor had immediately started cooking, and Eric was pretty certain that no more food could be fit into the refrigerator or onto the counters. In fact, there was so much bounty that Sookie had decided to invite a few of Gran’s closest friends to the house for a small get-together after the graveside service.
As the minister continued reciting the biblical passages that Adele had prearranged to be read at her burial, Sookie leaned away from him to embrace her cousin Hadley, who sat at her other side and who was openly crying. Eric kept his hand locked with Sookie’s, however—where it had been for most of the day. Eric was pretty sure that he needed to maintain that connection just as much as she did.
Hadley had spent a little time at Gran’s house the day before, though she’d gotten tired quickly. Eric had been able to tell that Hadley was quite ill, and she’d shared privately with Sookie that her doctors were worried because she was not responding as expected to her new drug regimen. Thus, her immune system was faltering. Still—Hadley was trying to keep up her spirits and to make the most of whatever time she had left with her husband and son. Remy Savoy, Hunter’s father, was clearly worn down from taking care of an infant and his ill wife, but—thankfully—his own prognosis was good, and his doctors were hopeful that his HIV would not develop into AIDs.
When Eric had suggested that he and Sookie babysit little Hunter for the night, Remy had jumped at the chance for a quiet night with his wife. Eric smiled a little at the memory of caring for Hunter with the woman he loved. He’d always been good with kids, though he didn’t exactly know why. He suspected it was because he’d learned how to be quiet and patient, and kids seemed to respond to that. And little Hunter had been the perfect distraction for Sookie, who seemed to be a natural at parenting as well.
Eric had never been more proud of a human being than he was of Sookie. However, a part of him also envied her greatly. He had witnessed the exact moment when Michelle Stackhouse had lost the ability to hurt Sookie. Oh—Eric had no illusions that Michelle would continue to try to injure her daughter if she got the chance, and Sookie still had a long way to go before her mother’s negative voice was out of her head for good, but something had shifted in Sookie.
It had been a moment of grace—beautiful to witness. Eric just hoped that he would have the opportunity to get to the same place with his own father someday.
Sookie had been a sight to behold during the previous week. Despite her grief, she’d confronted her past with a calm strength that Eric had been seeing more and more from her during the last months. She’d made her peace with so many specters: Bill Compton, her mother, her brother, her whole unhappy childhood.
Sookie had also made the difficult decision to sell Gran’s home and most of the things inside of it. In a lot of ways, Sookie hated the thought of doing that, but she knew that she’d never return to Bon Temps to live; plus, she didn’t like the thought of Gran’s house being empty. She’d offered the farmhouse to Remy and Hadley first, but Remy had a good job, and he’d inherited his own grandparents’ home in Monroe, where he and Hadley had a support system. However, he and Hadley did want some of Gran’s furniture and dishes, so Remy had arranged to have a moving truck at the house at 6:00 a.m. the following morning—well before the estate sale was due to begin.
Sookie was taking a few keepsakes and family items with her to New York—a small box of pictures and a few little things that she associated with Gran. The Stackhouse family had a nice set of silver, and that had been packed up and set aside for Hunter. Sookie and Hadley had split up Gran’s homemade quilts and jewelry, but most of the things in the house were being sold at the estate sale.
Sookie had talked to a local real estate agent referred by Sid Matt Lancaster the day before, and a young couple, Hoyt and Jessica Fortenberry were extremely interested in the house already. Having grown up in the area, Hoyt was familiar with the property, and he and his new bride were looking to move out of his mother’s house and start a family of their own. They would be coming to take a look at the property on Saturday morning—right before Eric and Sookie were due to leave for the airport.
Truth be told, Sookie was anxious to settle Gran’s estate so that she wouldn’t have to think about Bon Temps anymore. She had told Eric that she would always be grateful to Gran and would always love the old farmhouse in a lot of ways, but—without Gran there—the dwelling just seemed hollow. And—given Michelle and Jason’s proximity—it could never be a home for her.
Sookie planned to add half of the profits from the sale of the house to the trust that Eric was helping her to set up for Hunter. Luckily, most of Remy’s and Hadley’s medical expenses were being covered since they were participating in the testing of a new drug cocktail for HIV and AIDS patients. And Remy had a good job at a roofing company; however, Sookie made clear to them that if money ever became an issue that they just needed to call her, and she’d release part of the trust.
The money and items promised to Jason had already been given—as had the initial inheritance set aside for Remy and Hadley. And Sid Matt was ready to release Michelle’s “bribe” at the end of the day.
Indeed, Eric marveled at how efficiently Sookie was handling things. He could see that she was incredibly upset by Gran’s death, but she wasn’t losing herself in her grief, nor was she allowing herself to become numb to it.
Yes. He was proud of her—damned proud.
Out of the corner of his eye, Eric saw that Jason was nodding off as the minister continued to speak words from the Old Testament of the bible. Eric couldn’t help but to think of the word, “testament.” It was a testament to Sookie’s innate goodness that she was whole and generous of spirit—despite all she’d gone through already in her life. On the other hand, it was a testament to Michelle’s manipulative skills and Jason’s weak-mindedness that Sookie’s brother had turned out so shallow. Eric couldn’t imagine siblings being more different.
He sighed and moved his eyes to Bobby, standing sentry at the back of the crowd. Next to him were Henry and Travis Fletcher, an FBI agent from Shreveport who had come to the funeral in order to deal with the situation if Bill Compton showed up. Thankfully, he hadn’t. In fact, Bill had seemingly left Bon Temps on the morning after he’d visited the farmhouse. Eric just hoped that Bill had gotten the message that his presence in Sookie’s life was unwelcome.
Eric was broken out of his thoughts as the minister completed his reading of Psalms 23 and said a benediction. Then Sid Matt stood and read a poem with which Eric was unfamiliar, “Turn Again to Life” by Mary Lee Hall. Sid Matt’s voice cracked and broke several times as he read:
If I should die and leave you here a while,
be not like others sore undone,
who keep long vigil by the silent dust.
For my sake turn again to life and smile,
nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
something to comfort other hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine
and I perchance may therein comfort you.
After reciting the poem, Sid Matt walked to Adele’s casket and laid a white lily upon it. He looked fondly at the box that held Adele’s body and then smiled sadly at Sookie, who rose to her feet—with Eric by her side. Together, they walked to the casket and laid down their own lilies before moving to the side as a line of well-wishers placed other flowers on top of the casket.
One of the last people to approach the casket looked at Sookie a little bit too long for Eric’s comfort; in fact, once Eric noticed the man, he realized that he seemed to be studying everything too much, and his expression didn’t look like it belonged at a funeral. Eric’s neck hairs immediately stood on end, and every instinct he had told him to get Sookie away from the man.
Eric caught Bobby’s eye; then he subtly gestured toward the stranger. Understanding immediately what Eric wanted, Bobby nodded and subtly pulled his phone out of his pocket. He turned on the video and held his phone so that no one would be able to tell he was filming. It wasn’t long before he captured the mystery man’s image.
A/N: I’m so sorry that it took me longer than I’d planned to get you this chapter. I blame taxes—and my hubby for being so unorganized with his stuff. Every year I tell him to just give me anything tax related right when he gets it, yet, every year, we end up having to “clean out his office” at the last minute as I scramble to get things filed on time. Sigh.
The next chapter’s pretty short, so I’ll try to get it to you this weekend before I transition back to Uninvited.