My husband has three parents: his dad, mom, and step-mom, who has been in his life since he was 9. She is such a vital part of his life that I tend to think that I have two mothers-in-law, instead of one and then a step-mother-in-law. With his father’s second marriage, Michael acquired new siblings. And in a horrible twist of fate, his brother died of an out-of-the-blue heart attack two weeks ago.

We made the trip last week to a lovely and remote part of Northern California for a funeral that should have taken place at least thirty years from now to celebrate Zach’s life and support those who we know and love most affected by his death: his wife, two boys, sister, and mother.

I have attended very few funerals/memorial services: all four of my grandparents, a friend of mine who passed away when we were in fourth grade, my husband’s grandfather, and a friend’s father. Except for my friend from fourth grade, these deaths were poignant, but not unexpected, and for some reason I didn’t really understand what had happened in fourth grade. I have had to consider the idea that people very close to me will die through illness or addiction. I have had to consider my own death, and the impact it will have on those who love me. Both what I have experienced and my imagination did not come close to what I witnessed and experienced last Friday.

After the funeral, family and close friends attended the burial. Zach’s sister, mother, and wife sat in the front row, I was standing in the back, and all I could see were three backs and heads shaking with grief. And then the pastor stopped talking. The grief that had been quietly contained released, and the fifty-ish people in attendance on that clear day in the shadow of brown hills witnessed a wife’s loss. Her keening sobs cut straight through me and tears rolled down my face. Michael’s arms wrapped around me and he pressed his face into my head, and both of us held each other for support from the onslaught. For at least two minutes, not a soul moved as all our hearts melted for her.

She eventually stood, still weeping, and held onto her boys. Her twelve-year-old, the weight of manhood already beginning to bow his shoulders, held her in support, and her little one just cuddled into the hug. She started to quiet, turned to the crowd and thanked us through her sobs. We shook ourselves and started heading back to the cars, knowing that the food and alcohol that awaited would do nothing to dull the pain of what we had just seen.

Please add Amanda, Brandon, Justin, Margo, and Heather to your prayers.

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