As Missy ambled into the kitchen, Ben watched in amazement, seeing a younger version of his wife short-step it across the warm tile floor. Katherine had walked in the same way when she first rose from sleep every morning. In fact, you couldn’t really call it walking, as it was more of a shuffle, right foot sliding forward eight inches, then the left foot sliding forward eight inches, and so on, until Katherine reached her destination, a first glass of cold tap water filtered through the refrigerator. Missy was aimed directly at the refrigerator, completely oblivious to the fact that she was copying her mother’s early morning shuffle, a walk Ben had affectionately called the Penguin waddle.
For a moment, Ben remembered the last time he had seen Katherine shuffle across the tile floor. Seemed like forever now, but in actuality, it had only been six weeks ago. Since that time, she had been in hospital care, never to grace this home with her presence again.
Missy turned around from the refrigerator tap, and eyed her daddy from just above the rim of the glass, long curly hair tightly wound around her shoulders and neck. Ben returned her look, and asked, “Sleep good, baby?”
Missy wrinkled her tiny nose, “No. I kept waking up.”
“Why?” asked Ben. “Bad dreams?”, as a sudden realization of what yesterday might have done to her psyche hit home.
“No, I drank too much water last night at the hospital and when we got home, and I kept having to go to the bathroom.” Missy replied amidst a yawn. “And then….and then, Daddy, Auntie Jeanne, she couldn’t sleep neither. So she came and laid down by me. But I think I kept her awake, 'cuz I was always getting up, and moving around. I didn’t mean to keep her awake, but I always had to go so bad.”, She said, frowning the way children do when they really want to emphasize their point.
That’s okay, Missy.” Ben smiled, thinking of what it would have been like to sleep with an eight year old girl who had to go to the bathroom every hour. “Auntie Jeanne is still asleep then, huh?” He asked.
“Well, baby, I’m glad she finally fell asleep then. Make sure you let her sleep for a good long while, okay?”
Missy wrinkled her nose again, yet another trait she shared with Katherine, whenever she asked a question. “But doesn’t she have to go with you to the funeral place, Daddy?”
“No honey, she can drive in later. Besides, I want her here when Pastor Jack’s family gets here, so she can show them where everything is.”
“I can do that! Daddy! Really! I can!” Missy responded, eyes opened wide now.
“I know you can, Missy, but I want her here anyway. We talked about this last night.” He said, gently. “Missy, there is a lot to do around here, and Pastor Jack’s wife offered to clean the whole house for us. I didn’t want her to, but she insisted. So I want Auntie Jeanne to show her where all the cleaning things are, okay?”
“Oh yeah! I’m sorry, daddy, I forgot.” She said, swallowing a gulp of her water. “When do I have to go?”
“Not until tomorrow, honey.” Ben replied.
“But I wanted to see Mommy today, daddy. I can’t wait ‘til tomorrow, I really wanted to see her today.” Missy said in such a way that caused Ben to wonder if she was going to begin crying. Missy bravely held on to her emotions, though.
“Missy, after we meet with the funeral director, they have to get her ready for….for…” Ben could hardly say the words, “the viewing”.
Ben had never liked “the viewing”. From his earliest memories, every funeral he had ever attended had been complete with “the viewing”, the part of the funeral where everybody stopped in front of the casket, and looked upon the loved one, friend, or acquaintance lying in state. Katherine’s would be different, being his wife, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to make it through, seeing her always out of the corner of his eye, while onlookers paid their respects.
Inevitably, someone, maybe many people, would say, “She looks so good.” Ben’s mind raced along the only answer he could think of in reply, and somewhere in his mind, he heard his voice cry, “No she doesn’t! She’s dead! How can someone who is dead look good?” He knew he would never say this out loud, but his mind screamed, and his heart ached at the thought of hearing those words said about his wife.
He looked at Missy, a tiny tear forming in the corner of his eye, and said, “Missy, I know you want to see her. But I can’t make things any different today, do you understand? You have to stay here, and I really need you to be patient, even though it’s the hardest thing to do.” He hugged her gently, and looked into her eyes for any sign of grief coming again.
“Okay Daddy. When are you coming back?” Missy asked, as a shadow crept over her eyes.
“I’ll be here for sure by . I promise, Missy, I will be back here by then, no matter what” Ben said, recognizing this look in her eyes, and remembering how worried Missy had been last night in the hospital that he might not come back for her.
Missy smiled, hugged her Daddy, and then asked, “Do I have to take a bath today?”