It was an ordinary day for me. I am a hairstylist. I went to work, performed the best job I could do for my customers and put all the hard things in life on a shelf to be dealt with later; that is until I got a phone call from my mother.
She said in an excited voice, “Arhonda! They set the tombstone on your dad’s grave today! I can’t wait to show it to you!”
Ug! I had not planned to put that on my itinerary for the day at all. She was my best friend, so I was very flexible when it came to rearranging my life for her but, this was different. I had intentionally stayed out of the decision-making when it came to dad’s tombstone. It comforted mother, so I supported her in any way she needed me to, but that was not a job that was important to me. It seemed to mean so much to her, that I just kept my mouth shut.
I beat my forehead softly on the door facing, closed my eyes with the phone to my ear, and said, “That’s good mom, when do you want to go?”
“I’ll come get you after you get off work.”
I braced myself. Dad had only been gone a short while and mother missed him dreadfully. She grieved for him every waking moment. I am one who believes that each person must grieve in the way they best find comfort. I wanted her to do whatever she needed to, but my way wasn’t her way.
I hung up the phone and finished my customer’s hair.
Life had thrown some hard knocks at my family when we lost my dad and me but if there is one thing I had learned is that, neither good times nor hard times are permanent. They come and go like the tides of the ocean. We are not in control. Sometimes we surf the waves and sometimes the waves throw us. There are times they seemingly cover us until we cannot see our way out, but somehow, I have always found the daylight that leads me out.
I looked out of the window and saw her brown Ford LTD pull into the driveway. I glanced at the clock; it was time to face the dreaded trip. It had all the ingredients to a very emotional upheaval. I braced myself and put on a smile for her.
It was quiet on the way to the cemetery. It was just about 3 miles from my shop, so it wasn’t uncomfortable. Mother knew her way around very well. She pulled up, and we got out of the car. Immediately, I saw his name. That was another strong dose of reality to see his name etched in that stone. Mother, of course, had tears streaming down her face. I couldn’t stand for her to hurt so it was only a second before I joined her in tears of grief.
After she could talk, she said, “And look at the back, Arhonda!”
I walked with her just those few steps and opened my mouth to brag on the stone she had ordered when I heard her say,
“I had all five of my children’s names put on it!”
I saw the back and lost my breath like someone had pole-axed me. A thousand things went through my mind at that point, but I inhaled so that none of them would spill out of my mouth disrespectfully. I was aghast.
Mother did not warn me that my name was etched in that piece of stone. I wanted to throw up, but not yet. I would do that later when she wasn’t with me. I swallowed the bile and hoped my face wasn’t as green as it felt. Again, I told her how beautiful the headstone was and what a good job she had done ordering it. When she let me out of her car, I made it all the way into the beauty shop before I broke.
It was sobering to see my sibling’s names, but there was something dreadfully, soul-stirring, about facing the reality of my death. Even worse, there were no accomplishments, awards, merits or hurrahs that accompanied my name. I was forced to face the cold hard fact that once I was gone, there would be no proof on this earth that I had ever existed; except for a name scratched in a worthless piece of rock
I mulled that over in my head for months. Of course, I knew I wasn’t ever going to find the cure for cancer or to be an astronaut that landed on Mars, but it seemed such a waste of time and hard work not to have accomplished anything worthwhile. Then, the unthinkable happened. Out of the clear blue sky, a relative, who I had not seen in years, stopped by for a visit. He asked me to meet him at the local cafe because he was on a business trip and had only a short time to spend with me. It was during our wonderful visit, short as it was, that he thanked me for something I had helped him with years before and told me he loved me. He said he had struggled with it a long time but after talking to me, everything became clear to him.
I never knew he had struggled so badly, nor did I know I had helped him. It was then I realized, we will never be remembered by scratching our names on a rock. Our lives are etched within the hearts of our friends and loved ones. In them, we live on!
Yeah, I could live. . . . Or, die with that!