Family Relationship Stories
Is This Necessary?
In family relationship stories, not all relationships hold us together; not all loss breaks us apart. And not everything needs to be explained away.
Pine branches swayed along the roadside like waving arms, while thunder rolled overhead, and rain poured from a gray sky.
Spencer crept along the freeway, trying to peer through the splashing drops pounding the windshield, the wipers flipping back and forth at top speed.
Trucks, spraying blinding sheets of gray muck, passed on both sides, making his small car rock in the aftermath.
He gripped the steering wheel tighter.
“Is this really necessary?” He was asking God and didn’t expect a response, but when lightning zig-zagged in a glorious array across the sky, he wondered if he’d do better not to question the Almighty in such a supercilious tone.
“Sorry. I wasn’t trying to be rude…just…this is… Hard.” The image of his sister’s face flashed before his eyes.
As if he had passed through a doorway, the rain suddenly settled into a light patter, and the sky brightened.
A lump formed in Spencer’s throat. “Thanks.”
The rest of the drive through Missouri and into Kansas went without a hitch. The rock formations along the roadside always fascinated him, but he had little emotional energy for enjoyment of any kind. All he wanted to do was get to 126 Blossom Lane and park in the old familiar driveway.
Three hours later, his shoulders aching and his stomach tied in a tight knot, he did just that.
His junior by only seventeen months, his sister Jan was always petite, bright-eyed, and full of energy. Thin and wiry she could outrun everyone in the family, while he could outwrestle his three older brothers and even—once—their dad. Despite being the smallest and youngest, they ended up being natural athletes. He and Jan ran miles together as kids and formed a silent bond in their long treks through their native farm country.
At the break of dawn on summer mornings, Mom would wave them on with a smile and a hurried, “Don’t be late for breakfast!” before she bustled into the warm kitchen to her baking, housework, and never-ending sewing, and quilting.
Dad worked the farm, following the learning curve of modern technology and the latest and greatest in agricultural trends. It was a surprise to no one when his brothers joined the family business, and their farmstead grew beyond the horizon.
But Spencer could not stop running. Even when he graduated from college with a degree in Education, he had to move on—see new places and follow new roads. First California, then Colorado, Georgia, and finally Illinois, where he found a comfortable niche and a pretty woman who liked to run at the break of day.
Life was good. Seasons changed. His parents retired, and both passed beyond mortal life, bringing the expression Rest in Peace into sharp focus.
“Three years ago? Has it really been that long?” Spencer switched off the ignition, tucked his phone into his pocket, and snatched up his keys on the lanyard with his school badge attached. He hadn’t had time to think, much less plan what he needed…or didn’t need. He unlatched the car key and slipped it in after the phone. A strange sense of disconnection swept over him as he dropped the lanyard into the cupholder and eyed his slim suitcase sitting resolutely on the passenger side.
I’m not really coming home, am I?
Bert, bigger than ever, stood on the porch, holding the front door open with his back, his arms folded over his large belly as if he didn’t know what to do with them. “Made it safe and sound, I see.” He forced a grin though his brown eyes remained grieved.
Spencer stepped lightly onto the porch, remembering the feel of the worn wood under his feet. The sun had broken through and now shone on sparkling drops hanging from the surrounding trees and bushes, warning of hot, humid days to come.
He had a sudden urge to hug his brother, but formality long established held firm. “Where’s Tom?” He didn’t need to ask where Dave was. By his sister’s side, undoubtedly.
Bert gestured inside. “He just got off the phone. Everything is set for 11:00. You want to wash up first? There’s not a lot of time.”
The familiar safety zone—stick to business. Don’t talk about natural beauty rising with the sun or the glory of each day, and most definitely, do not mention the terror of storms that snatch good things…good people…away.
“Yeah. The bathroom—it’s where I left it, right?”
A flicker of humor in Bert’s eye spoke of life still within, but it faded quickly.
Spencer ran up the steps two at a time, as if he was a kid once again and could be nothing else while in his old home. He ran cold water and splashed his face, then peered into the mirror and nearly choked at the reflected image of his father, a man in his prime, wrestling demons every day.
His eldest brother, Tom rumbled below. “Get yourself down here, Spence. The ladies at the church told me in no uncertain terms that they were serving at 12:30 sharp.”
The words, “It’s not their funeral!” rang loud in Spencer’s ear, as if someone had shouted at his side. But habitual docility, the commerce of peace in a family, forced his attention on drying his face and hands.
After he’d straightened his collar and smoothed down his sleeves, he clumped down the steps, taking his time, ladies’ sensibilities or no.
Dressed in a black suit, Tom looked like he presided at double funerals every day of his life. His grey eyes, set deep in his face, a firm chin, and squared shoulders exuded the confidence of a man doing his family duty.
Poor Bert, large and rumpled no matter what he wore, slouched at his brother’s side.
“I didn’t have time to get my black suit cleaned—so I just wore this.” Wearing the same dark blue suit he had traveled in across three states, Spencer stopped on the bottom step, hoping to pass inspection, and hated himself for the need.
Vacant eyes merely swept the room. Tom nodded at no one in particular and hefted himself to the door.
Like a marionette on strings, Bert followed.
Spencer took up the rear.
Silence was their only companion on the way to church.
The visitation line was mercifully short. Bert assured Spencer that they had a big crowd the night before and got the worst of it over then. Only close family and friends were due to show up today.
Spencer tried to explain three times, unburdening the guilt he could not rightly explain. “If Tanya wasn’t so far along and having so much discomfort…I would’ve come right away—but it’s our first, you know, and she’s worried…I had so many things at school I had to manage…”
But no one in the visitation line heard or took the slightest interest in anything more than pressing his hand, sobbing in mumbled incoherency their own grief, and glancing nervously at the two draped coffins on the right.
Tom took his position at the head of the line, breaking the waves as they crashed along family lines. Aunt Bertie and Uncle Glen shuffled into place and teared up with honest compassion.
Nothing of the following service entered Spencer’s consciousness. The caskets, thankfully covered, sent shadows swirling through his mind. When the funeral directors finally rolled them down the aisle, Spencer merely wondered that no one carried them. Another tradition gone by the wayside. The pallbearers marched on each side, but it wasn’t the same, though undoubtedly safer.
As he and his brothers drove into the cemetery, vivid memories flooded over Spencer. His parents’ funerals—so different than this. They had lived long, full lives and somehow their deaths were not a tragedy, but rather, a completion. Missions accomplished. Perhaps his parents’ attitudes had made the difference.
But no… Spencer wrestled with his jumbled thoughts. Events can defy reason and murder any hope of a happy send-off.
Tom did his duty with calm authority throughout, and after the graveside service ended, the entire crowd followed his directional wave, back to their cars, ready for the appointed 12:30 dinner. He stopped suddenly and frowned at Spencer, who still stood at the graveside, even as the funeral attendants folded chairs and the large green tent.
Spencer waved him on. It was only a mile or two into town. “I’ll walk.”
Tom’s frown deepened.
Bert took a stand at his brother’s side, and the matter was settled.
Tom and the crowd kept to the designated plan, and soon the parking lot was nearly empty.
Finally, Spencer could hold back no longer. He stepped out of the way and let the gravedigger do his job.
Bert stayed close, his gaze following the dirt as it covered the caskets.
Disturbingly fascinated by the earth covering the caskets, the holes quickly filling, Spencer cleared his throat with effort. “I lost my sister. You lost your brother. What did Tom lose?”
Bert shrugged, his voice low and ragged, a private conversation not meant for anyone else, not even for the professional ears of funeral directors and gravediggers. “He lost dad. They were best buddies. Like you and Jan. Me and David.” He sighed. “We all lost family members, but we do it differently. Not all relationships hold us together, not all loss breaks us apart. Hardly seems right.”
The strain of holding his tears in check sent an ache through Spencer’s head. “I didn’t miss Dad or Mom. They were great people who lived happy lives. Their deaths weren’t tragic.”
“Not to us anyway. But the unexpected throws everyone out of whack. Our neighbor, Jeb, lost his grandpa to a mower rolling over last month. Car accidents, illness, cancer, hell, there was a gal who fell off a balcony the other day—freaky and utterly terrible. Makes no sense.”
“Is this really necessary?” Spencer hadn’t meant to say the words aloud, but his brother’s reaction assured him that he had.
“Huh? You don’t want to talk—fine then.” Bert turned on his heel.
Spencer reached out and grabbed his brother’s arm. “I was asking God.”
When Spencer released his arm, they both looked up at the bright blue sky.
Bert sniffed and wiped his sleeve over his tear-stained face. “No answer.”
Remembering the splendor of the lightning array, Spencer swept his gaze across the glorious spectrum, waiting.
And there it was. The largest, most beautiful double rainbow he had ever seen in his life. He pointed, his hand trembling.
Bert’s voice cracked, “You think it means something?”
“Yes. I do.”
“I don’t know.”
Bert reared his head back like a man who’d just been slapped. “You think that God speaks to us but doesn’t tell us what He means?”
“All the time.” Peace flooded Spencer’s heart. He pointed to the fading colors. “We’re all here for a time, and then we have to go. Sometimes gently, sometimes violently. But we must go.”
Bert shook his head, staring at Spencer in blank astonishment. “David didn’t talk much, but he always made sense to me.”
Spencer shrugged. “Neither of us is making much sense to Tom at the moment. We best get walking, or we’ll create a storm of our own.”
“Just a sec.” Bert hurried to the two graves and mumbled a few words. Then he hurried back and matched Spencer’s stride as they headed to town.
“What was that?”
With a flush, Bert shrugged. “Just wanted to tell ’em about the rainbow. Maybe they saw it—and maybe they know what it means. And maybe I don’t need to understand to be glad that it was there.”
Spencer’s heart rose…and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky—anywhere.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
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“There are many excellent stories in this collection.” ~McEvoy
“Readers interested in changing perspectives presented as succinct, hard-hitting slices of life will relish the literary and psychological attractions of One Day at a Time And Other Stories.” ~California Bookwatch