When I went back into our bedroom after the funeral, I was overcome with the urge to pack all of Dean’s things away. I didn’t want to wear my ring. I didn’t want to see his clothes. I didn’t want to see his shoes or his watch or his bible. I wanted all of his things to disappear. I found the feeling odd. When the hospital chaplain called to check in on me, I asked her about it.
“That’s because you’re not ready to deal with you’re grief.”
That’s not what I wanted to hear. I’ve been grieving. I’ve grieved. I’ve been crying my eyes out for years. I’m so sick of being sad! I’m so sick of crying! I’m 27 years old. I want to live my life without being sad all the time. I don’t want to grieve anymore. I’m done grieving.
There was certainly a finality with burying Dean’s body. Everything had changed. My tie to Australia was broken. I was free to leave. Free to find a future for me and the boys. My parents and I decided it would be better if I were to fly back to the states with them, rather than hanging around Australia for a few weeks or months. At least this way they would be with me on the flight and could help.
I had organized a leaving party for me and my friends. I was saying goodbye to some of the best friends I’d ever had. Friends who had seen me through the worst times of my life. I wanted to go out and have fun. I really wanted to have fun. I’d done so much crying, so much grieving, so much taking care of everybody else. I wanted to have FUN. I felt torn though, as I knew it wouldn’t be “perceived” well. “Oh, Cassi’s only just buried Dean and now she’s at the pub.” I could hear them say. The Gossip Tree flourished in Esperance. And many frequented her branches to eat her fruit of destruction and spread her nectar of poison.
One of the pastors in town, John Bayly, came to visit me. He had been a constant source of love and encouragement over these past years. Tonight was no exception.
“Cassi, there’s going to be a lot of people trying to tell you how to feel and what to do. Dean’s not suffering anymore. He’s in heaven, having a party. You go out tonight and have a good time with your friends. And don’t feel bad about it.” I loved his radiant face and the unwavering love that shone from it.
Sweet freedom. They were just the words I needed. Permission to have fun. And not be judged for it.
I did go to the pub that night. We did karaoke and danced the night away. I had a blast. I was so glad I did it. Life is for the living. And I wanted to live.
Over the next days my parents helped me pack and handle the logistics of leaving the country. Passports. Bank accounts. Etc. As emotionally drained and mentally scattered as I was, completing tasks wasn’t easy.
We said our goodbyes to Dean’s family and as many friends as we could. Everyone was still grappling with Dean’s death. It was a hard. I was so ready to leave. I couldn’t ever imagine wanting to come back to this place.
This place where my dreams and love had died.
After a couple days in Perth, it was time to fly home. Where was home? I guess it was going to be California. We were boarding the plane. Waiting in line. There was a man in front of us. Asher struck up a conversation with him as he often does with strangers. The man was in his 30’s and had a shaved bald head.
“You have a bald head.” Asher stated in his blunt fashion.
The man was warm and friendly, “Yes I do.” As he flashed a big smile.
“How old are you?”
“I’m 32.” He seemed intrigued by this inquisitive young boy.
“My dad had a bald head.”
“Oh really, how old is your dad?”
“My dad’s dead.”
The poor man didn’t know what to say. Hearing my little boy say those words triggered something. They rang in my ears. My dad’s dead. My dad’s dead. I was trying desperately to hold the tears back. I couldn’t. The lump in my throat felt like an apple. The tears started pouring onto my cheeks and down my neck. Not now, Cassi. Not here. Not now. I tried to keep my composure. To put on my brave face. It was too much. I’m leaving Australia. I’m leaving without Dean. I’m leaving him behind. Oh my God, Dean’s buried in a hole and I’m leaving the country. Away from my beloved. I’m leaving without him. Oh God. Oh God. He’s dead. He’s dead. I shuffled down the aisle to my seat and put my bags in the overhead compartment. I kept sniffling and wiping the tears away, praying that they would stop. But the wave had come. It was only just building. There was no stopping it. Alcohol. I need alcohol. I sat down in my seat and one of the stewards came over.
“Miss are you okay?” His sincerity and friendly demeanor was disarming and made it even harder to keep the torrent of tears from rushing.
I struggled. What do I say? I’m not okay. I’m so not okay. I was struggling to catch my breath to keep from sobbing.
“Miss may I ask, are you leaving someone behind?”
How does he know?
I managed to nod my head yes.
“My husband. My husband died two weeks ago.” I could hardly get the words out. I could hardly believe them myself.
He gave a look filled with disbelief and compassion.
“Is there anything I can get for you?”
Alcohol. “Um, Can I have a rum and coke please?” I was a mess. Tear streaked, mascara running everywhere, red, and flushed.
“I can’t get that for you right now, but as soon as we get in the air I’ll get that for you, okay?” He was so nice. I nodded.
The anxiety that I’d been living with for months was peaking out now. Flying had become increasingly more challenging for me. Increasingly unbearable. Anxiety and Fear would culminate in a frenzy of torture over me. The airplane their chosen scene for crimes against me. Are we going to make it? I hate to fly. I hate flying. This is it. This is the last jaunt to my new future. My new life. Far away from death and pain and everything that’s going to remind me of the hell I’ve been living.
I’d been drinking steadily through the flight, but hadn’t managed to get to sleep. About half way through we hit some turbulence, as you always do on that flight going over the equator. Anxiety was getting more intense than anything I’d felt before. All I could picture was the plane crashing into the ocean. My palms sweating. A feeling like ice started in my chest and started running down my arms. A sharp pain in my chest. What happens now? I feel like I’m going to explode, or implode, or something. Am I having a panic attack? I can’t breath. Oh God, I can’t breath. I pressed the button for the steward. The same gentleman that had been waiting on me came over.
“Are you okay miss?”
Tears were still streaming down my face. “Um, I’m sorry…I feel like I can’t breath.”
“Okay luv, why don’t you come with me.”
Praise God the boys were asleep and my parents were nearby in case they woke up. He lead me down the back of the plane and sat me down. He put an oxygen mask on me.
I looked into his eyes, Fear permeating my mind,
“Are we going to make it?”
He gave me a look full of empathy. Like he could see the desperate turmoil of my soul. He wrapped a blanket around me. Another stewardess came over. She was so pretty. She looked like an angel. She was an angel to me at that moment. She asked me about where I was traveling to and about my boys and things. She brought me some gourmet chocolates. I had to assume they were from first class. She rubbed my back and continued to ask me how I was feeling. She told me that everything was going to be okay. I still felt the threat of disaster, but I welcomed the distraction of conversation. My chest pains eased slightly. I don’t know how long I was back there for. Every hour felt like a day. Eventually I came back to my seat. I thought of every bible verse I could that might bring me some solace or comfort. You have me in the palm of your hand, Lord. You have me in your hands. Peace Lord, I need your peace. But adrenalin and panic coursed through my veins, prompted with each tick and tock.
When our plane landed, I felt like I’d been given my life back again. I was completely drained and exhausted, but I was alive and on land. And that made me smile. I bid farewell to the stewards that helped me. Thank you God for those people.
We got in the car. Summer. I was transported. California in early July. Warm. Beautiful. Familiar smells. Familiar sights. Such a contrast to the Esperance winter I had just come from. Home. The driving. The honking. The speeding. The crowds. The pace. Culture shock. Even though it had only been six months since I’d been here, it felt like ages. I took a deep breath. And then there was that. The smell of home. Everything is going to be okay. I’m home. Thank you Jesus. You brought me home. I’m a mess. I’m broken. But I’m home.
I thought the worst was over.
I was wrong.