Submitted by Kimberly Wencl
As Kimberly sat in the chair between her husband and her father she was completely numb. She could hear the words as the funeral director spoke. She could see his lips moving but nothing seemed to register in her mind. The whole situation was like a horrible dream that she couldn’t wake up from. Even something as simple as breathing was difficult. In the past twenty-four hours, life as they knew it had ceased to exist.
Without prompting, her thoughts rushed back to the day their oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was preparing to leave home and attend college at the University of Minnesota. In spite of her mixed emotions about her firstborn leaving the nest, Kimberly and her husband Roger were very proud of their daughter. She had enjoyed helping Liz gather up everything needed to move out on her own, even though she knew how much she would miss her. Her daughter was so excited to be spreading her wings and venturing out into a new life of true independence. Finally the day arrived and she was off to face the world.
Liz did well in school and before they knew it a year had already passed. Prior to beginning her sophomore year she and a few friends decided to move into a duplex that was only a few blocks from campus. Then tragedy struck. Kimberly and Roger received the call that all parents fear. Much to their horror they were informed that a fire had broken out at the duplex. Liz and two of her roommates had died from smoke inhalation. Devastated, Kimberly barely remembered anything that happened after that.
Her mind crashed back to the present as the funeral director’s voice interrupted her reminiscing. He asked question after question that she had no choice but to answer. What was her birth date? Where was she born? What year did she graduate from high school? Kimberly answered them all without any thought. At that moment she felt more like a robot, emotionally void, than a mother. Part of her wished she could just run out of the room screaming. She wanted to run home and find her beautiful daughter safe and sound in her room. She could picture Liz with a coy smile on her face telling her, “Oh Mom, you just worry way too much! Nothing is going to happen to me! I’m just fine!”
Why couldn’t this all be just a horrible nightmare, or some cruel joke? Please God, please. Liz was only 20 years old. It was incomprehensible that she was gone. Kimberly knew that denial was useless. This was reality and she had to accept it and learn to live again. As the funeral director left the room briefly they sat there like statues staring blankly into space. Conversation was impossible and the silence in the room was deafening. They were clinging to a fine line of keeping their composure when her husband dropped his head into his hands and sobbed. With a sense of urgency he stood up and hurried out of the room. Stifling his tears he mumbled the fact that he had to get some air. Barely acknowledging him, Kimberly and her father sat in their chairs as the tears streamed down their face. When the funeral director returned he gently informed them that they would need to provide clothes for Liz to be buried in. As his words slowly sank in, Kimberly mentally scanned her daughter’s closet at the house and realized there was nothing left. She had taken all her clothes with her to school.
Facing the difficult task ahead, Kimberly enlisted the help of her sister. She had so many misgivings about picking out the last outfit she would ever buy her daughter. The many times she and Liz had gone shopping they had never agreed on anything. How was she going to do this without her there? Her sister drove her to the mall and they immediately headed for a shop that her daughter had once worked at. She knew Liz had always liked the clothes there. Kimberly hesitated a moment at the door and whispered, “Liz, you have got to help me here! I have absolutely no idea what to pick.” She slowly walked around and began to peruse the racks. Surprisingly fast she found a pair of khaki pants and a light blue sweater. She showed it to her sister and said, “I don’t know if this is what Liz would want but even if I don’t get this right, does it really matter?” Still somewhat unsure she decided to go with what she picked and proceeded to pay for it. Relieved to have accomplished what she had set out to do, they left.
The funeral served as a grim reminder of how quickly our loved ones can be lost. It was an emotional ordeal for the many friends and family that attended. The outpouring of love was a testament to how much Liz meant to so many. They appreciated all the words of solace and expressions of sympathy but were thankful to put such a painful event behind them. The following day, Kimberly’s sister-in-law, Karen, stopped in to check on her. As they sat in the kitchen drinking coffee and talking, Karen told her, “I was going through some pictures last night and I found one of Liz taken last Christmas. I thought you might want to see it.” She reached into her purse, pulled the picture out and laid it on the table. Kimberly lovingly picked it up, smiling as she saw Elizabeth sitting happily with her cousins. Suddenly her breath caught in her throat and she couldn’t speak. She looked at Karen who smiled back at her. Liz was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a light blue sweater! Knowing how she and her daughter had never seen eye-to-eye regarding clothes, she felt in her heart that Liz had been with her at the mall and had guided her to the perfect outfit. Kimberly felt the love and warmth radiating from her heart as she pictured Liz in her new outfit looking down with a beautiful smile, confirming that her mother had made the right choice.