Friday, September 5, 2008
Fiction Friday - Stained Glass Lives
The serenity of the hospital chapel numbed Sharon’s grief-stricken soul. Sunlight dancing through the stained glass windowpane created lilting patterns on the carpeted floor, contrasting with the gray shadows of her heart. “I should be getting home,” she said, puffing out her cheeks as she exhaled forcefully.
Driving through the winding streets toward home, she recounted the events of the long day. Memories of the tubes, the beeping monitors, the parade of doctors in and out of the room and the ominous silence as life stopped all blurred in her mind as tears filled her eyes.
She pulled over to the side of the road and let them fall unchecked. “Lord, I can’t imagine life without Dad. I feel like my heart is broken into a thousand tiny pieces. Life will never be whole and beautiful again.”
Jeanne, a widowed friend of the family helped Sharon make the funeral arrangements. Placing her arms around the younger woman, she said, “When my Charlie died, I felt so lost and alone. I still miss him, but the intense pain has passed. It takes awhile to get back to living.”
Rather than diminishing as the days passed, the black cloud surrounding her life intensified. Sharon barely left the house. She sat on her father’s bed, surrounded by empty boxes, trying to pack up his closet full of striped ties and button-down shirts. Each one she folded brought a new sense of grief.
“You were always there for me, Dad. You went to all my high school plays, and all my volleyball games. We did everything together.” She shouted through tightened lips and brushed angrily at the tears. “Why did you have to leave me now? I still needed you.”
Feeling alone and overwhelmed, she closed the door on the mess and looked for something edible in the fridge. The meals from well-meaning church ladies were gone. She pulled out a half-empty carton of milk, wrinkling her nose at the stench as she checked the expiration date. “I really need to get to the grocery store. Maybe tomorrow.”
Rummaging in the cupboard, she found canned chicken noodle soup, dumped it into a large mug and heated it. A heel of bread along with the soup would have to do for supper. Why bother to cook? There’s no one here but me.
Ignoring the dishes piled in the sink; Sharon slumped into the living room and plopped down on the sofa. Grabbing the remote, she flicked through the channels as she sipped on her cup of soup. Settling on a game show rerun, she tucked her feet up under her and buttoned up her emotions as she would her parka against the wintry chill.
When the doorbell rang at 3:00 in the afternoon, she shuffled over, opened the door a crack and peered out. Jeanne bustled past her with a cheery smile. The smile vanished as she looked at the younger woman. “Look at you! You look like you slept in those sweats for a week and there’s a tomato soup stain on the front of your tee shirt. When was the last time you washed your hair? It’s sticking up all over the place.”
Sharon grunted. “Go away and leave me alone. I’m trying to clean out Dad’s room.”
“Sure you are. That’s why you have that game show on TV?” Without waiting, the older woman propelled Sharon toward the bathroom. “You climb in the shower and I’ll go find something for you to wear,”
She dug in her heels at Jeanne’s persistence. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“We’re going out to dinner, and then we’re going to the craft show at the mall. Your Dad wouldn’t have wanted you to waste away to nothing like this.”
She wanted to shout at Jeanne, but managed to keep her tone level. “How do you know what Dad would have wanted?” She regretted the bitter question immediately as a dark shadow passed over the older woman’s features.
“I’m sorry,” Sharon mumbled. “I know you were close to Dad since Charlie died.” She fled into the bathroom and turned on the hot water full force. She needed to warm the numbness in her soul, but it would take more than a hot shower.
On the drive to the mall, she stared out the window in an effort to discourage conversation but Jeanne persisted. “Did you know I started keeping house for your dad shortly after your Momma died in the accident? That was long before I met Charlie.”
Sharon shook her head, still focusing out the window. “No.”
“You were such a bitty little thing.” The older woman smiled, clicking her tongue with a sympathetic sound. “Only a month old, with no Momma. He hardly knew what to do with you. At one point he considered putting you up for adoption because he was sick with grief over your Momma’s death and scared silly about raising you alone.”
The younger woman turned to stare at her friend. “He never told me about that.”
Jeanne nodded and continued, her voice soft and comforting. “I answered his ad for a housekeeper and moved into the garage apartment to help care for you while he worked. I only stayed for two years – until he introduced me to Charlie. Then we married and moved away.”
A lump formed in Sharon’s throat and tears stung the back of her eyes. Dad thought about adoption? She shivered as the thought chilled her heart.
The older woman reached across the console and patted her hand. “When my Charlie died, I moved back here. You were fifteen and your dad didn’t need me then, but we were still good friends. I’ve always cared for the two of you.”
Sharon turned her head toward the window to hide her tears from her friend and rode in silence the rest of the way to the buffet. Too numb to care about food, she pushed bits and pieces around her plate with her fork.
Jeanne lightened the chatter during the meal, sharing humorous “terrible-two” stories from the younger woman’s life as a toddler. She dabbed the laughter-induced tears from her eyes. “Your Dad doted on you. I’m sure you will find a scrapbook somewhere filled with all his treasured memories.”
As the women left the restaurant, Sharon could hold her grief no longer. “He never told me he thought about adoption.” She covered her face with her hands and wept in the car.
“Oh, honey, he loved your Momma so much. You were the only thing keeping him alive back then. You were his world. Though he considered it briefly, he couldn’t have given you up. You were his connection to her.”
Jeanne hugged the younger woman and handed her a tissue. “I remember the day he turned the corner on his grief. I was holding you while he talked to your Momma at the gravesite. He thanked her for giving him such a special little girl and he promised to raise you to love Jesus.”
She smiled, rubbing the younger woman’s arm. “From that day on, he devoted himself to raising you. He was the best Daddy – he gave his life to you. Don’t let him down by withering away.”
Sharon sniffled and dried her tears. She nodded and breathed deeply as she repaired her makeup in the car mirror.
“Come on; let’s go enjoy the crafts in the mall. It’ll do you good.”
For the next hour, the two women walked the mezzanine examining homemade afghans, refrigerator magnets and every imaginable craft. Though Sharon still felt numb inside, she managed to smile at Jeanne’s stories.
As they prepared to leave the mall, a pattern of colors danced on the floor by the exit. Glancing over, Sharon noticed they came from a craft stand selling stained glass sun catchers. She walked over and began to examine the pieces fascinated with the intricate patterns. A white-haired man looked up from the piece he was crafting and smiled at her.
“You like stained glass, yes?” His accent and his smile warmed her heart.
She nodded. “Your work is beautiful.”
He beamed at her compliment and brought the piece over to show her. It was an eagle with wings spread, ready to fly. “This is my favorite pattern,” he said. “I make it in memory of my Anna – she drew this eagle on paper. Now I create it in glass so I can see the sunlight shine through it. It reminds me of her.”
The man broke into a wide grin. “Come I’ll show you.” He motioned Sharon behind the display table. “See, I must cut each feather out of this big sheet of brown glass.” His workplace was littered with dozens of brown shards of glass. Sharon realized they were the feathers, each one carefully shaped and ready to be put together.
She watched, a smile of wonder beginning to curl at the edge of her lips. The man showed her how he scored then purposely tapped the glass to break it into the proper shape. He sanded the edges and fit a piece of lead caning all the way around each piece.
When several pieces were ready, he placed them in position according to the master pattern and melted small drops of solder at intervals along the seams to hold it together. Beaming, he turned to Sharon once again.
“When it’s finished, it will look like this.” He held up a completed pane depicting the eagle in flight against a blue glass sky, soaring over white-capped purple mountains. As he held it up, the sun danced through the glass, splashing color on the floor.
“Oh. Thank you for showing me! It is so beautiful.”
He smiled and said, “I sorrowed for my Anna for a long time. My heart felt like many pieces of broken glass. But in time, God put all the pieces together according to His plan. I stopped seeing the sorrow and saw the beautiful memories He gave me instead.”
“You’ll never know how you’ve helped me today,” she said, reaching in her purse for a tissue.
“You grieve for someone too – I see it in your eyes.” The man nodded and patted her hand.
“My Father. He passed away a few weeks ago. I don’t have any other family.” Sharon wasn’t sure why she was sharing her hurt with this stranger.
He smiled and held up his index finger. “Wait here.” He walked around his table and found a small eagle sun catcher, similar to the large pane he was making. “For you – so you can remember the beauty too.”
Tears spilled down Sharon’s cheeks. She held the stained glass eagle up for Jeanne to admire as the women walked back to the parked car. A genuine smile lit her face for the first time since her father’s death as a beam of sunlight filtered through the glass. She breathed a silent prayer of thanksgiving. Lord, Thank You for the beauty of Your spirit as You shine through my stained-glass life.
© March 2007 Bonnie Winters
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