Nicole watched as hordes of people made their way into the sanctuary. It just didn’t seem real to her that they were all here to say goodbye to a man that, at the end, she didn’t even know anymore. She sat in the corner room off to the right of the sanctuary with Alex on one side of her and Beth on the other. She had been so thankful that they were with her at that moment, but she had been even more thankful that Ryan had stuck by her side during this difficult time. She looked up and Ryan was staring at her from across the room. She gave him a small, but appreciative smile and he smiled back at her.
That morning, it had been beautiful out. The sun was shining and the heat shining down on her had been an exquisite feeling. But now, the sun was gone and dark grey clouds hung over the church, threatening to open up. How symbolic that the weather would match the events of the day as well as match Nicole’s mood. She had been able to celebrate Chad’s life this morning as she decorated the church and thought about their happy life together, but then as the clouds covered the sky, her mood darkened and the last place she wanted to be was at that church. She didn’t want to see these people that were here to celebrate his life, she didn’t want to engage in conversation and even more, she didn’t want to get up there in front of all those people and speak to them like their marriage had been the perfect fairy tale that all of them assumed Nicole and Chad had had.
“Mommy,” her little boy said as he walked up to her and put his hands on her knees, “I love you.”
“I love you too baby boy,” Nicole replied, her voice hitching as she pulled him into her arms.
“Is daddy coming today?” Hudson whispered into her hair, but was loud enough for everyone to hear, “I miss daddy.”
“No, baby, he’s not going to be here today,” Nicole replied quietly, her voice raspy, “Remember how I told you that something happened and daddy had to go away?”
Hudson nodded his head and looked at Nicole sadly in response.
“Where did I tell you daddy went?” Nicole asked, trying to get her baby boy to understand.
“Daddy was sick,” Hudson replied, “Really sick people go heaven. Daddy went to heaven...will daddy come back soon?”
“No bud,” Nicole replied, trying to keep herself together, “You won’t see daddy, none of us will see daddy, until we go to heaven... a long, long time from now. But you will see him again one day.”
Hudson put his hands behind his back and bit his lip, tears evident in his eyes as he looked up at Nicole. In that moment Nicole realized that Hudson finally understood that Chad was gone and he wasn’t coming back and her heart broke. He wrapped his little arms around her and finally, she heard a little whimper from him as he began to cry. Nicole held on to him tightly and cried as she tried to soothe him. He crawled into her lap and leaned his head against her chest as the tears slowly slid down his cheeks. She rocked him back and forth to try and calm him before the funeral started, but it wasn’t him she was worried about, it was herself.
Nicole felt a nudge in her side, bringing her out of her daydream. She looked over at her father with fear in her eyes.
“It’s you baby girl,” Fred whispered before leaning in and kissing her on the temple, “Just breath and speak from the heart.”
Nicole managed a small smile before she stood up and made her way in front of the people in her pew and up to the front of the sanctuary. She pulled out a piece of paper that she had scribbled some notes on and blinked her eyes a few times, willing the tears away. Nicole’s hands were shaking uncontrollably, a cold sweat had broken out over her entire body and her heart was pounding in her chest. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before she opened them and looked out at the crowd before her.
“Thank you all so much for coming out today to celebrate the life of Chad,” Nicole said as loudly as she could into the microphone, her voice shaky with fear and sadness, “All of us knew him in different ways, some of you were acquaintances, some of you were his teammates while playing various sports, some of you were partners at the firm, colleagues, friends and family. But what I think we can all agree on was that Chad had a big heart and he loved and lived his life to the fullest. He was one of the best men that I have ever met, he was a great friend, he was a brilliant lawyer, he was a pretty fantastic husband and most of all he was the most loving father to our little boy, Hudson.”
Nicole stopped for a moment and looked down at her hands as she blinked away the tears that were flooding her eyes. It was in that moment that she realized, despite what he had put her through, how in love with Chad she still was. Her heart continued to break and shatter inside her chest. She was never going to be able to make things right with her husband.
“This world has lost an amazing man,” Nicole said into the microphone, her voice cracking, “I didn’t think it was possible to love Chad more than I did when he was alive, but I love him more now than I ever have and my heart hurts so much. He took a piece of my heart with him when he died and I will miss him more than words can say.”
The rest of the funeral was a blur for Nicole. Chad’s best friend, Trevor spoke after her and then her father got up and gave the eulogy. She caught parts of it, but she kept finding herself thinking back to that day in the hospital. Laying by Chad’s side, listening to his shallow breathing and remembering how it felt when he pressed his lips against her forehead one final time.
Once the pallbearers had walked Chad’s casket out of the church, it was only her and few stragglers left and she hadn’t bothered to move. As the few people left in the church slowly began to make their way out, they offered their condolences to Nicole. She sadly nodded her head and thanked them, quietly, for coming.
“Hey,” Trevor said quietly as he sat down beside her in the pew, “What you said up there today was beautiful Nic.”
“Thank you Trev,” Nicole replied quietly as she reached for his hand, “A lot of crap went down in the end, but I meant every word I said. I love him so much and I will miss him deeply.”
“I tried so hard to speak from the heart,” Trevor stated, looking over at her, “But at the end, Chad and I weren’t speaking. The last time we saw each other we didn’t part on good terms. I just couldn’t understand how someone who loved you so much could hurt you so bad and I didn’t want to be involved in his lying and deceit. I had no idea that things would turn out like this...”
“None of us did,” Nicole whispered as she looked down at the ground, “Trevor, please don’t blame yourself...this wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just a very unfortunate situation. Please know that at the end he wanted things to be different.”
Trevor smiled sadly at Nicole and nodded his head in response. He leaned in and kissed her on the forehead before he pulled his hand away and stood up.
“I have to get going,” Trevor said quietly, “But if you need anything at all in the next little while, please call me. I’ll be there in a heartbeat if you need someone to take Hudson to soccer or help you with groceries or move furniture.”
“I appreciate that Trev,” Nicole replied, smiling up at him, “I’ll talk to you soon. We are planning a summer barbeque in Chad’s memory in the next month or so. I hope you’ll come.”
“Absolutely,” Trevor replied, “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Nicole waved goodbye and watched as Trevor made his way out of the church. After he was gone she turned her head back to the front and stared at a picture of Chad that had been on display and put her hand on her stomach. Surprisingly, her morning sickness had waited until then to kick in, but she sat there quietly for a couple more moments and waited, hoping that it would subside. After a couple more moments Nicole took a deep breath and stood up and smoothed the wrinkles out her dress.
It was time for her to go bury her husband.