Our Love Story, Part 26: The Funeral
A few weeks ago, on August 10th, the clothes I will be buried in arrived at the house. It was not lost on me that they arrived on the one-year anniversary of Julienne’s funeral, even though I ordered them in May. My life with Julienne is full of coincidences that, as far as I am concerned, are anything but.
There’s nothing to worry about regarding me ordering my burial clothes. I have no plans on dying any time soon. I am sadly healthy, so far as I know. I’m not young, though I am not old either. I’m not at the twilight of my life, but the afternoon has definitely faded to evening and the shadows are getting longer. The reason I decided to order them is very simple: I now understand the importance of planning your death, to one degree or another. It can happen at any time, and it most assuredly will happen, so I’ve decided to start getting things ready, just in case, so I can have them available to whoever is left to deal with me after the end and knows what I want.
As I have learned, it is one of the kindest things you can do for your loved ones.
I left Julienne’s side after her parents and brother arrived. I was in shock and numbed. I walked out of the room in a daze. I may have talked to Lucy, there may have been other people there, I don’t know. That immediate period of time is an impenetrable haze. I do remember calling our nurse, Heather, and getting in contact with the death doula, Lee. Those were immediately important contacts. I also remember going back into the bedroom and seeing her family around her and just dying a little more inside, seeing everything and knowing that Julienne was gone. I got on my knees at the foot of the bed and held her leg and pushed my face into the gold silk comforter she’d just recently gotten (after spending many years looking for one with no luck) and screamed into it but no sound would come out and I thought at that moment I was going to die, and I really wanted it to happen.
I didn’t, though. I got up, and at that moment I felt a sort of eerie calm descend, the kind where your ears are ringing. It was much like when the hospice doctors told me she was dying, that same detached feeling. I knew there were things I needed to do. I made more phone calls, sent more texts, letting people know what had happened. Just a week before we had planned for this very moment, and because of it, I knew what to do, and because I had a job still to do as Julienne’s caregiver (and in a way, I always will. It is not a role I plan to relinquish, even if all I can do is tend her site and house and make sure her memory is alive in the minds of others). Her wishes were still to be carried out, and I had to make sure that everything was as she wanted it to be.
As with the final days, there is a lot of gaps in my memory. People began showing up, although who it was isn’t clear to me, except in a few cases. Lucy, of course, and Kurt, returning with the things we’d needed just minutes before, now no longer necessary. Gabe and Savannah arrived, as did her uncle Dave and aunt Grace, her cousin Laura (and I think Jayme), her sister-in-law Michaela. There might have been others too. I don’t know.
I remember these people because they became my hands and eyes and, to a large degree, my brain. I started telling people where things we needed were located – her basket casket, her clothes, the portable shampooing station I’d gotten for her, the things we needed to prepare her. I asked Laura, Lucy, Savannah, and Michaela to pick out the right picture of her, because I knew that I would need to say something on social media, to inform her friends and the people who’d been following her story. Laura helped me provide contacts on the post for flowers for people to order, organic roses and lilies at Julienne’s request. In a million ways, they helped me through that horrible day.
I took a shower, my first in almost a week. I was still calm, the process of executing Julienne’s vision giving me something to hold on to. I had trouble figuring out what I should wear, but a combination of Julienne’s influence on my fashion and Savannah’s input helped me choose. The calm I was in was less eerie, now. It was just purposeful.
Heather and Lee had arrived. It was now just after noon. Together with Sharon, they did part of Julienne’s necessary prep, a step Julienne didn’t want me to have to do. She tried to spare me from some things, which I always understood. Some things that are necessary aren’t pleasant. Once they were done, it was time to get my beautiful wife ready to leave our home for the last time. We got her on to the stretcher, using towels to help keep her as secure and motionless as possible. At the last minute Lee said that we needed something to support her neck and to help keep her head from turning from side to side. Kami, Julienne’s beloved stuffed animal, made the trip with her. I think Jules would have really appreciated that.
A group of us carried her out to her parents’ Expedition. All of the seats in the back were down except one, and I sat there next to Julienne. I just looked at her. She was still so beautiful, at rest. Her mother drove us, her father in the passenger seat, us in the back, like we’d done a hundred times over the years, going to the movies or the beach or to dinner. I remember it being mostly quiet, but that could have been just me. I just looked at my wife.
Jay and I waited in the car for a few minutes after we arrived. Sharon had gotten out to help make sure everything we needed to wash and dress Julienne was ready. Lee and a friend of Sharon’s were there getting the essential oils and various items we’d need prepared and laid out. While we waited, Jay told me the story of the first time they’d come to Miami to visit Julienne after we’d gotten together (I believe it was during the Time For Three concert in 2014). He told me how he’d watched Julienne and I interact, how she looked when she was with me, and asked Sharon what my name was again. I had a feeling like, this one is one I’m going to need to remember, he said, and we laughed softly together through the tears.
Everything was ready. We carried Julienne over to the table that was set up on the covered porch and got her settled. Sharon and I were going to be doing the bulk of the work. I hadn’t known what I was going to feel at this moment when the plans were made. Julienne had worried that people would struggle to do it, and I hadn’t known what state I’d be in. Standing there, looking down at Julienne, all I felt was love. She’d asked us to do something that was hard, but because she asked, it would be done.
Sharon started washing Julienne’s feet, cleaning them with scented oils that Julienne liked. Lee recommended that I start with the mouth. Using a Q-Tip and mouthwash, I gently cleaned her teeth and gums and lips. When I was done, I took little shredded pieces of cotton and placed them along her lips against her teeth, to keep them in place, and then did the same to her eyelids to keep them down. I washed her beautiful kind face, the one face that always brightened my day, her incredible expressive face. Then it was time to wash her hair.
By now, I’d done this for Julienne many times. Using her hands above her head on oxygen was hard for her, so I was always happy to help her. As Sharon washed her daughter’s body, I poured a pitcher of water carefully over Julienne’s hair. Our movements were deliberate and loving, neither slow nor hurried. I lathered her hair, probably talking to her as I did so, and as I did we all noticed that Julienne now had a small smile, as if she were pleased that we were able to exactly what she had wanted. She wore that sweet little smile from that point forward.
We continued on, now joined by her aunt Grace. Together, we finished washing her, and it was time to dress her. She’d chosen a long, simple dress in a medieval style with long sleeves and some simple but beautiful embroidery. Now her uncle and father had joined us as well, and together we got her dressed.
I can’t explain how calming and beautiful the process was. No one who did not love Julienne had a part in it. She was cared for until the last by the people who loved her most in the world, who made sure the details as she would want them were right. There were tears, to be sure, but calm reigned over us all. It was such an act of love, of closeness. I didn’t have to leave my wife’s side for more than a few moments, and by her side is the only place I’ve wanted to be since the day I met her.
Once Julienne was dressed, we moved her to the front sitting room where a massage table would serve as her bed as she lay in honor. It had been covered by the same gold silk comforter that had been on our bed for the last few weeks. We placed her on it, getting all the details she wanted right. The green garland from our wedding, now dried, lay encircling her. Garlands made from the smallest of the dried roses Julienne had saved over the years, strung together by Savannah and Jayme (and possibly others) while Julienne was in hospice, were arranged among the greens. Cold packs and dry ice were placed under and around her. The flower crown she wore as a bride rested in her hair. We placed fairy berries around her in among the flowers that were beginning to arrive.
Allie arrived and, as Julienne had asked her to do in hospice, she did Julienne’s makeup. I watched her work. Allie was a little nervous at first, because she wanted everything to be perfect, but I could see her settle down as she went. She did it absolutely perfectly, subtle but beautiful. When she was done, it was time for the final step. We placed her wedding veil over her, covering her in the sheer gossamer fabric. Julienne had wanted it case she looked bad, to help blur her form, but it wasn’t needed.
Julienne was absolutely beautiful.
It’s cliché to say that a person in that state looks like they are sleeping, but it was definitely true. With the veil on, Julienne looked like Sleeping Beauty straight from our favorite Disney film. The veil looked like a sparkling web spun with love and care. She was a fairytale princess until the last. Later, before the funeral, we asked Laura to take some pictures of the room, filled with roses and lilies as Julienne had wanted, and of Julienne. I won’t share them here, but they are beautiful. We had all agreed that Julienne, who had gone to all of the trouble of specifying every detail and even sketched some out, would have been a bit cross with us if we hadn’t.
I didn’t leave her side very much at all, only if I needed to or to give other grieving family member time alone with her. I will be forever grateful to the people that were beside me most of the time, dearest Lucy, Christian and Allie, Gabe and Savannah. I don’t know where I’d be without them. That night, I stayed in the room after everyone had gone to bed. I read to her, determined to finish the book she’d wanted me to read to her in hospice, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Once I was done, I slept on the couch, not very well, but every time I opened my eyes I could see her beatific face.
Friday and Saturday, people came to see her and pay their respects. I was still in a Zen-like state, calm even when the tears flowed, as they did quite frequently. Her parents and I greeted people, friends and family and a variety of people whose lives had been touched Julienne in ways great and small. Soft music played in the room, the playlist Julienne had made at some point before the end.
(I have trouble listening to music now. It’s either too superfluous or too hard emotionally. We had intertwined the music we loved so much that there isn’t much that isn’t a painful reminder. Her In Honor playlist, though, I listen to every time I go to and leave her site. I still cry during parts of it, but when I listen it grants an echo of that calm peaceful state I was in for those three days.)
At one point her mother took me up to the grove where Julienne would lie after sunset on Saturday. Her father and brother and aunt and uncle and others I can’t recall had been working hard on it for days, getting plants and flowers placed. The hole was already dug, done by a local friend of her parents. I remember standing beside it with Sharon and Nathan as she said that after the funeral, a couple of young men would come by to fill the hole. I had already been thinking about this, and how I didn’t want anyone who didn’t love Julienne to do anything if it could be helped. Nathan made it clear he’d been thinking about it too, since once Sharon said that, we both shook our heads. We would do it, no matter how long it would take.
Saturday evening, it was time to prepare Julienne for her final trip. Her wicker basket casket was put on the floor beside her. Julienne had saved and dried every rose bloom that had been given to her since her diagnosis (she always was a perfectionist and a planner) for this moment. They were placed at the bottom of the casket, then we lay the cloak Julienne had chosen over them. We lifted her body and gently placed it, then I clasped the cloak as her parent’s arranged it around her face. We surrounded her once again with the garlands of greens and roses. I placed the copy of The Brave Girl I’d given to her on Valentine’s Day 2016 in her hands as the messages people had left on cards for her were placed beside her. Finally, I brought our dogs over to see her, to make sure they knew where she was and that she was gone. I didn’t want them to think she’d abandoned them.
The funeral was small and the people who were there were specified by Julienne. There was no lid, since Julienne didn’t want one due to her claustrophobia, but as she wanted, we placed the flowers that had been sent for her in the casket over her. With the dried roses given to her out of love for the past 4 years under her, she was covered head to foot with the fresh flowers given to her out of love and remembrance and farewell.
It was a simple ceremony, unscripted. Her mother Sharon, her father Jay, her brother Nathan, and I spoke, all from the heart. We sang The Parting Glass to her, said our last goodbyes, and lowered her down. After the sun went down, people headed back to the house, except for those who wanted to stay and help Nathan and I with the very last step. I didn’t expect so many. We didn’t have enough shovels to go around, so it had to be taken in turns. We managed to carry the same spirit of love even to this task, and we talked, and made little jokes, and cried, and told stories as we worked. It was hard, dirty work in the dark, but we surrounded Julienne with love and laughter to the very end.
I will never forget that time. It was crushing and uplifting all at once. I took the top, where my wife’s beautiful face was, because I didn’t want anyone to cover her face with dirt but me. If someone had to do that appalling act, I wanted to be the one, because I don’t think I could have handled anyone else doing that to my sweet Julienne. So I did.
It is a singular experience, unlike anything in the world I have ever done. I’ll never forget the people that were there, that chose to do that out of love. Nathan. Lucy. Laura. Christian. Allie. Savannah. Gabe. Grace. Kurt. Together we buried Julienne, something she never thought to ask of us, but something we refused to let anyone else do.
Afterwards, we sat together and drank wine and told stories and cried and laughed and raged. I was still carrying that mostly calm feeling, like she was with me the entire time, comforting me and carrying me through. The entire process had been a gift to us from Julienne, a way to carry us all through the worst time of our lives, to care for her one last time, as intimate and beautiful and loving a gift as could ever be given.
Then I went home for the first time since Thursday, with Christian and Allie and Lucy. I walked through the front door and looked to my left to the fireplace mantle and I saw the picture there, the one she’d chosen after a long string of alternatives that were never quite right. The picture says:
And I broke, because the You and Me was gone, never to return.
And I haven’t stopped breaking ever since.