The night of my husband’s funeral was the loneliest point in my life. After everyone went home, I was totally alone in the house I shared with Ned for 32 years. I don’t ever remember the house being so cold and quiet. Moonbeams engulfed my bedroom yet emptiness was all around.

Ned made me promise that I’d get on with my life after he was gone. The last thing he wanted was for me to spend my days grieving. I agreed because I knew that’s what he needed to hear but I doubted turning that corner and moving on after losing the love of my life would be easy for me. 

The next few weeks were a blur. I went out only to buy groceries, turning down all invitations from well-meaning friends to join them for lunch, a movie or a round of golf; it just wasn’t in me.

The time inevitably came when I knew I had to do something with Ned’s belongings. I found some empty boxes in the attic and began filling them with his things to donate to a men’s shelter. Lovingly I folded each shirt, jacket and pair of pants. I polished his shoes and included a couple of packages of new socks and underwear. The men living in the shelter were going through dire straits and deserved to be treated with respect.

The one thing I couldn’t part with was Ned’s cherished pipe collection. The warm aroma of cherry and whiskey lingered in the house. I pictured Ned sitting at his desk meticulously cleaning each pipe and placing it in the rosewood stand. I walked to the den where he watched TV, enjoying his pipe after dinner; my eyes filled with tears and I broke down – probably my first really good cry since Ned died.

It took about a week to get everything boxed and I called for a donation pick-up. The man I spoke to told me someone would come by on Thursday before noon; I told him I’d leave the boxes on the front porch in case I wasn’t home at the time.

Thursday morning I placed the boxes on the porch and headed out to the cemetery. It was four months since Ned’s passing and I had flowers to place on his grave. I stood by Ned’s gravesite reminiscing about our time together when I noticed the sun dancing off a coin on the headstone. “Of course!” I thought. “I should have known Tom would come by.” Ned and Tom were best friends ever since serving together in Vietnam. Keeping with tradition, Tom left the coin on Ned’s headstone as a sign that he stopped by to pay his respects.

After the cemetery I shopped for a few groceries. When I got home the boxes were gone; there was a receipt from the men’s shelter stuck in the front door. I placed the groceries down and sat on the porch’s double swing, staring at the vacant spot where the boxes sat just a few hours earlier. The void I felt at that moment was almost unbearable.

Silent tears rippled down my cheeks. “It’s not fair. It’s just not fair!” I cried as I pounded my fists against my legs.

“No, it isn’t, Lizzie. Lots of things in life aren’t fair.” There was Tom standing on the top step. Without a word he walked over to the swing, sat down beside me and cradled me in his arms as I wept. Tom spoke in hushed tones: “I know exactly how you feel, Lizzie. I went through it when Kay died. You and Ned were there for me through it all. There’s no feeling that comes close to a broken heart. We lost our soul mates; I hope you’ll let me help you like you helped me.”

We sat for a long time without talking, just holding hands sitting on the swing. Words weren’t necessary between dear old friends. Tom helped me bring my shopping bags into the house and together we put everything away.

How about I brew a fresh pot of coffee, Tom? Make yourself comfortable in the den and I’ll bring it in.”

When I got to the den, Tom was sitting at Ned’s desk admiring his pipe collection. His still handsome face was creased with a sweet, sentimental smile.

“You know, Lizzie, that long-stemmed pipe in the middle was always my favorite.” Tom’s blue eyes glistened and I could tell he had shed a tear or two for his dear friend.

“It was Ned’s favorite, too, Tom. I remember the day you gave it to him.”

My heart fluttered as I removed the pipe from its stand and placed it in Tom’s hand. “I know Ned would want you to have this.”

Tom closed his eyes for a few seconds, his hands cradling the pipe. “Thank you, Lizzie. I’ll treasure this always.”

Tom said he had to get home and we walked to the front door.

“Wait, Tom. Can you come for dinner Saturday night?”

“I’d like that, Lizzie. Very much.”

“Me too, Tom. Is 6:30 okay?” and he nodded ‘yes’.

I said goodbye and pressed my back against the closed door. And I smiled for the first time in months.

NAR © 2021


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