stood quietly off to one side at the funeral home.
She watched the parade of people murmuring comments of sympathy to
the family – some sincere, most not.
Empty words. Empty
hearts. Empty heads,
she thought derisively.
watched the dead woman’s children.
They were going through the motions and seemed almost too numb to
feel their loss. They
responded automatically, answered appropriately, and kept up appearances.
watched the husband. He
stood, stone-faced, apparently aloof and arrogant.
Only one who knew him well, and looked deep into his green eyes,
could see the truth: he was
shattered. He made the effort
for appearances’ sake, because that is what his beloved wife would have
wanted. And a part of him was
glad she was at peace. But he
was lost, bereft, crumbling inside. He
couldn’t go on. He didn’t
want to go on.
saw. She knew his heart.
She had been the one by his wife’s bedside as the cancer ravaged
the woman’s body and soul. His wife, who had once been the epitome of grace, elegance,
and beauty, had quickly been reduced to a shuddering shell, aged before
her time, hazel eyes laced with agony.
had held the woman’s hand and wiped her brow countless times in the last
weeks. She had been there
when the woman breathed her last. She
had been the one upon whose shoulder he had cried.
watched. She waited.
She had come to know him well and knew the warning signs.
She knew when this distinguished gentleman’s composure was about
to collapse, and she made her move. Walking
quickly to his side, she interrupted his conversation.
“I’m sorry, but the funeral director has some papers he needs
you to sign.”
that, she led him from the room, down the dim hallway to the quiet office.
No one was there. He sank wearily into the chair and ran a hand over his face.
Rubbing the back of his neck, he asked, “So what do I need to
she said quietly as she moved behind him.
She began firmly massaging his tense neck muscles as she continued,
“What you needed was to get out of there before you broke down.”
shouldn’t leave the kids alone,” he muttered as he gave himself up to
shouldn’t have left you alone with your dying wife,
she thought bitterly, but she said nothing.
She kept moving her hands, steadily working out the tension in his
muscles, steadily tending to his soul.
Wheeler sighed. He didn’t have to turn to see the recrimination in the
bright blue eyes. That had
been his wife’s biggest regret: that her illness had come between their
daughter and this young woman.
Wheeler had been diagnosed with cancer two weeks after their daughter,
Honey, had gone away to college. Honey
was studying at Dartmouth College, which was only four hours away by car.
However, Honey had dealt with her mother’s illness by pretending
that, if she stayed away, it wasn’t real.
son, Jim, was a senior at DePaul University in Chicago.
He had been adopted at age 15, after having lost both his birth
parents to cancer. He handled
the news by burying his head in his studies and not ever coming up for
Belden was best friends with both children.
She had been appalled by their reactions.
all the rest of their friends, Trixie had stayed in New York for college,
attending New York University. Upon
Madeleine’s diagnosis, Matt and Maddie had moved into their New York
penthouse to be closer to her doctors.
Trixie had come by every day after school to see if there was
anything she could do. At
first, Maddie had stoically refused her help.
As it became apparent that she needed someone, Maddie realized she
would rather rely on this caring person who was nearly family, than on
some hired servant. Over
Christmas break, Trixie gave up her dorm room and moved in with them.
futility of Maddie’s struggle had become apparent about the same time
the spring semester ended. Maddie
had fought so hard to be well enough to attend Jim’s college graduation. She had been so proud of him.
She sat in the arena with tears in her eyes. Jim had barely looked in her direction. Trixie had been furious.
had hoped her children would spend the summer in New York, giving her a
chance to say goodbye. But
neither one had come home at all. As
Trixie tended to her day and night, Maddie had become more and more
depressed. And Trixie had
become angrier and angrier.
made excuses for her children, protesting that it was difficult for them
to deal with the situation. She
wasn’t trying to make herself feel better; she wanted to ease Trixie’s
anger. Honey and Jim
couldn’t even cope with her illness – how could they cope with her
death? Maddie realized that
her children were going to need to lean on someone, and Trixie was the
only one strong enough to help them all.
knew what Maddie was doing. She
tried to reclaim the soft spot in her heart, the love and forgiveness, the
ability to be understanding. But
she watched Maddie sink into the pain and loneliness of her slow,
agonizing death, and she ached for her.
This woman was by no means a perfect mother, and she had made many
mistakes. But she loved her children.
And they wouldn’t even allow her the chance to tell them that
before she died.
then there was Matt. Trixie
took care of him, just as much as she tended to Maddie.
She handled details, so he could spend time with his wife.
She handled household matters, so they didn’t need servants
intruding on their short remaining time together.
She handled Matt’s life, so he could handle Maddie’s death.
the end was near, Maddie spoke to Trixie about what the young woman had
come to mean to her. “I
used to think of you as another daughter, but you are so much more than
that. You have been a true
friend, a sister. You have
been one of the greatest blessings I have ever known.
You have shown me the meaning of love.
Thank you for being the glue that has held us together these last
had smiled and told Maddie she loved her.
Then she had gone to her room and, for the first and only time,
wept alone. She wept with joy
for the love she had found in her friendship with Maddie.
She wept with sorrow for the loss she would soon feel.
She cried for the lost opportunities between Maddie and her
children. And she sobbed for
the man who was about to lose the love of his life.
Then she dried her tears, and bottled them forever.
She could afford them no more.
the time courses at the university were to resume at the end of August, it
was obvious that Maddie had mere days left.
Trixie refused to go to school and stayed with Matt and Maddie.
called and badgered Jim and Honey, but they did not come.
She was sure she could never forgive them for that.
hung on until the first of October, and smiled peacefully when she died in
her sleep. She was free from
Matt, the pain was just beginning.
made all the funeral arrangements. She
coldly sent telegrams to Jim and Honey with the details of the funeral,
rather than making personal phone calls.
She was surprised that they bothered to show up at all.
the past two days, there had been a tense strain between Matt and his
children. Trixie tried very
hard to stay out of things and kept her thoughts to herself.
She moved about the perimeter of activity, quietly keeping
everything running smoothly, and took care of the details, as always. She spoke to the funeral director, the staff, and Matt’s
secretary. But at no time had
she spoken to his children.
drew himself out of his reverie and focused on the little dynamo who held
his world together, still silently massaging his tired muscles. He reached up one hand and placed it on hers, stilling her
movements. Turning his head
slightly, he said, “They’re your best friends.
You’ve already lost her; don’t lose them, as well.”
listened to his voice, rough with pain and exhaustion.
She felt the tremor in his hand.
White-hot fury threatened to explode inside her.
Instead, she met his eyes with cool composure.
“When I’m sure that you haven’t lost them, then I’ll
worry about my relationship with them.”
stepped away and smoothed her skirt.
“Take a few more minutes. I’ll
handle things until you’re ready.”
And she swept quietly out the door.
raised his eyes heavenward. “Why
do I have the feeling I’m about to lose them all?”
Belden stood in a corner of the room, taking a momentary break from the
inane conversations of many of the mourners.
It had been a very long two days of public viewing at the funeral
home, and she needed to step back and regroup.
She watched her friends and family as they circulated through the
crowd, and sighed.
once-close household staff from Manor House was there, clustered together
in one area, ignoring the looks from the wealthy and powerful, who clearly
felt the servants didn’t belong. For
them, this was a sad reunion. When
Maddie became ill, Matt had closed up Manor House, and they had gone their
Trask went to live with her brother to help run the family inn.
Tom and Celia Delanoy became the caretakers of the estate in
Sleepyside. Matt had built
them a small house a couple of years earlier, where they now lived.
They managed the property, always hoping to be able to open the
house again someday; hoping the family would come home.
Mr. Maypenny continued to patrol the reserve, rarely venturing
anywhere else or seeing anyone since Dan had left for college.
Regan had gone into partnership with Matt Wheeler two years before,
spinning the stables off into a separate business.
Currently, he had a riding school and a breeding business.
While it was still located on the Manor House property, he never
went near the house. Just
seeing it out the window of his apartment above the garage caused an ache
in his heart every day.
other staff found other employment, but they had kept in touch with each
other. They missed the
Wheelers, who had treated them all like family.
The death of Madeleine Wheeler was a tragedy, and they gathered now
to share their sorrow.
and Sherry Lynch stood talking with Peter Belden and other friends from
the Sleepyside community who had come to pay their respects to one of
their leading citizens. The
friends and neighbors had considered the Wheelers one of their own for
five years and willingly traveled into New York City for this gathering,
although they all felt it should have been held in Sleepyside.
individual members of the Bob-Whites were all there as well, but the Bob-Whites
of the Glen were not. The
last year had torn the club completely apart.
There were three distinct sections now, as evidenced by the
groupings around the room.
near the casket, the picture of decorum, were Honey and Diana.
Diana was attending school in Boston and was physically close to
Honey. They had often driven
the hour back and forth over the last year, sharing confidences and baring
souls. No one truly knew how
Honey felt but Diana. She was
Honey’s rock, and her faithful friend stood resolutely by her side at
this most difficult time.
the far end of the room, as if avoiding the morbid presence of the casket,
stood the four boys. All four
boys had gone to school in the midwest and had stayed close, even after
Brian headed south for medical school the previous summer.
Jim had often confided in Dan over the last year, and Mart and
Brian had stood by his side as well.
at the edges of the room, carefully distant from everyone and pointedly
alone, was Trixie. The only
person she ever spoke to anymore was her mother, and even those
conversations had slowed to a trickle in recent weeks.
Trixie had withdrawn to a distant place and was not about to let
anyone reach her. She
considered it her duty to be strong right now, and she wouldn’t be able
to do that if any emotions broke through her steely façade.
three days following the group’s arrival in New York had been difficult
and, throughout that time, the tension had been steadily mounting.
Sooner or later, it was bound to come to a head.
Helen only hoped that, when the time came, Trixie held her tongue.
If she didn’t, given the strength of her pent-up feelings and her
latent tendency to insert her foot into her mouth, she was liable to say
something that would destroy whatever shreds of a relationship remained
between the once tight-knit group.
glanced around the room again, this time focusing on Matt.
He was speaking with several of Maddie’s relatives, but he
wasn’t actually paying any attention to them.
Instead, he followed Trixie around the room with his eyes, his
expression sorrowful and resigned. Catching
Helen’s eye, he gave a barely perceptible shrug, as if to say, Isn’t
there anything we can do?
smiled sympathetically and shook her head.
No. This one is between them.
sighed and turned back to the Harts.
Helen watched him for a while before seeking out her daughter.
She found her at the guestbook, replacing the pen that had
apparently walked away with a guest.
Trixie was dressed in a black business suit, without makeup or
jewelry, her hair pulled back into a severe bun, not one hint of a curl
escaping its prison. She
honestly looked more like one of the funeral home staff than she did part
of the family. Helen was
certain the effect was deliberate, just one more attempt to disassociate
herself from the Bob-Whites.
up behind Trixie, Helen spoke quietly over her daughter’s shoulder.
“If you clench your jaw any tighter, it will surely break.”
turned to give her mother a cold glare.
“Would you rather I broke something else?”
but I think you’d like to,” was Helen’s gentle reply.
narrowed in irritation, Trixie spoke through tightly clenched teeth.
“Matt doesn’t deserve to have to deal with the war I’d like
to start. Believe me, I’ll
keep my peace.”
nodded. “Until a more
appropriate time and place, at least.”
don’t need to be told how to behave, Moms.”
Trixie turned on her heel and strode swiftly toward the ladies’
joined Peter, Ted, and Sherry. Sherry
wrapped an arm around her friend’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry so much. They’ll
work things out eventually. They
have to; they’re the Bob-Whites.”
sadly, Helen responded, “I hope that still means something.”
the funeral the next day, Trixie sat in the third row with her parents.
She conceded to this only because Mart and Brian were serving as
pallbearers and were seated across the aisle with the rest of the men.
Madeleine’s sister, Lydia, and her family sat in the second row;
Lydia had had the nerve to seem offended that she actually had to sit behind
the widower and his children. This,
despite the fact that she had been too busy with her social calendar to
see Maddie more than twice since her diagnosis.
Trixie spent several moments allowing her mind to wander, plotting
ways to cause Lydia serious physical pain.
The woman’s obvious disdain for her brother-in-law, after all
these years, was adding fuel to the raging fires in Trixie’s heart.
eulogy was stilted and formal, because the pastor had not known the
deceased woman well. He
shared stories he had heard from family members, but with little feeling.
When he concluded his prepared remarks, he said to the assembled,
“At this time, I wish to honor Madeleine’s last request.
She wrote a letter to all of you, asking that it be read during her
funeral. According to her wishes, Miss Beatrix Belden will share this
letter with us.”
rose and walked stiffly to the podium at the front of the church, carrying
a black folder. She had opted
this morning for a formal, high-necked, solid black mourning dress.
She had retained the severe bun, but allowed a single touch of
jewelry – a heart-shaped pendant Maddie had given her.
Mascara had seemed a complete waste of time, knowing it would
simply be washed away by her tears and leave horrid-looking streaks on her
face (if she lost her intense battle for control), so she had foregone any
makeup. The effect was stark and severe.
Most would see a cold, emotionless face, but those who mattered
could see in her haunted eyes pain, anger, and immeasurable grief – if
they bothered to look. Of
course, most of those who mattered were too wrapped up in their own grief
the podium, Trixie opened the folder and focused on the pages in front of
her. She had read these pages
so many times in the past few days that she practically knew them by
heart, but she felt reading the words would convey Maddie’s presence
better than reciting from memory. Of
course, it was a good thing she had the letter nearly memorized, she
realized ruefully. The sight
of the familiar handwriting brought tears to her eyes, and the words began
to swim on the page.
back the tears, refusing to allow her own grief to break through, she
cleared her throat and took a deep breath.
Trixie began with an introduction of her own.
“Knowing death is near causes people to examine their life.
Maddie spent a great deal of time carefully considering the things
she wanted to accomplish before she left this earth.
There were messages she wished to leave with you, and she composed
these words with great care. This
was very important to her, so, when she asked me to read this letter to
you, I agreed. I consider it
a great privilege to honor her last request.”
inwardly scolded herself. She
knew the last remark was a deliberate jab at Jim and Honey, and she knew
it wouldn’t go unnoticed. Resisting
the urge to look at either of them, she focused once again on the pages in
front of her and began to read aloud.
My Beloved Family, My Dearest
Friends, and all those gathered here to mark my passing, I am honored by
I know there are many here
today who have come because they loved me and will miss me. Others are here because they respect my family and wish to
offer what support and comfort they can during this difficult time.
And some are here merely because they think it the proper thing to
When facing the end of
one’s life, there is a great need for reflection.
As I struggled with pain and my own mortality, I learned a great
deal about the importance of words, deeds, and love. Having received the gift of time to formulate my thoughts on
these matters, I would like to share with you the final lessons in my
People do for others each and
every day. The greatest
difference amongst these actions is motivation.
Why do you do things for others?
For some, it’s their job. They
must do this or that in order to get their paycheck.
For others, it’s what is expected of them.
The ‘I can afford to donate to this charity, so it will look bad
if I don’t’ mentality. Believe
me, I know – I used to be just like that.
But for some very special
people, doing for others is the consequence of having so much love in
their hearts that it cannot be contained.
They give of themselves because they want everyone they encounter
to feel joy. They have pure,
unselfish souls and epitomize true generosity.
My greatest wish for each and every one of you here today is to
encounter such a precious, giving heart and be changed by it forever.
I know one group of loving,
generous children who profoundly changed my life and my heart.
With this in mind, I would
like to express my love, one final time, to some very important people in
My sister Lydia, her husband
Warren, and my nephew Benjamin… Family is the greatest gift on earth.
It is potentially the source of the most secure love – if you let
it be. My dearest wish for
you is to learn to love each other, unconditionally.
Margery Trask, Bill Regan,
Isaiah Maypenny, and Tom and Celia Delanoy… You crossed the line of
employees… and became family. You
made our large, intimidating house into a warm, comfortable home. Thank you for always going the extra step, above and beyond
the call of duty, to do your jobs with love.
Peter and Helen Belden, and
Ted and Sherry Lynch… My dearest friends in the world.
Your friendship brought me joy, fun, laughter, tears, shoulders to
lean on, and peace of mind, knowing I would never have to walk alone.
The Bob-Whites… For all the
lessons you have taught me, about loving, giving, caring for others, and
sticking together through all the trials of life, I thank you. May the harsh realities of adulthood never cause you to lose
sight of the simple joys in life or the truth about what matters most.
For my wonderful son, Jim…
When my husband first suggested adopting you, I was hesitant. I wondered how someone like me, who wasn’t a good parent to
her own flesh and blood, could possibly have anything to offer to a
fifteen-year-old runaway from a troubled home.
But I agreed, because it meant so much to my daughter.
I never realized how much I would be gaining by bringing you into
our home. You completed our
family and brought us together in so many ways.
You have grown into a fine young man.
Your honesty and integrity are above reproach, and your honor knows
no bounds. It has been a
privilege to watch you thrive in a loving home and to have had some small,
insignificant influence on your life. I say insignificant, because I don’t really think I was the
one influencing you – rather, you were influencing me. My son, I am so very proud of you. I love you more than you will ever know.
I am sorry I could not stay with you longer, but I will proudly
take my place with Winthrop and Katje Frayne in watching over you for the
rest of your days.
My Sweetest Honey… You
cannot possibly imagine how truly sorry I am for all the ways in which I
failed you. I can only hope
that I was able, in later years, to make up for the foibles of your youth. I cherish the memories of the times we spent together when
you were in high school. I
wish I could provide you with many more years of special times together,
but such is not to be. I hope that you find love and laughter in the years
to come. I hope you have a
daughter someday, and you are able to spend all the time in the world with
her, teaching her the meaning of love in all the ways you taught me.
I love you, my darling, and I will be by your side forever.
Last, but certainly not
least, my beloved Matthew… There are no words to describe the joy I have
known, loving you these past 23 years.
You have been my companion, my friend, my helpmate, my lover… the
best husband I could have asked for.
For all your riches, your true wealth is in your heart.
Don’t bury that with me today.
Go on living. See the
sunrises. Find the rainbows. Build new dreams. And
most of all, my beloved, love.
Love deeply, love well, love always.
My final words to all of you
– enjoy every moment God gives you, and remember what a precious gift
life truly is.
single tear slid down Trixie’s cheek.
She carefully closed the folder, refusing to glance further down
the page to read the postscript. To read those words right now would be the final blow to her
My dearest Trixie, I know very well you won’t read this aloud,
but I need you to know… You have shown me the purest, most beautiful
example of unselfish, self-sacrificing love.
You gave everything you had, until you had nothing left to give,
and then you kept on giving. You
are the closest thing to God that I have ever known.
Don’t lose that.
I know you’re angry, and I
know you’re hurt. You have
spent so long wrapped up in my darkness that you are alone and in pain.
Don’t remain in this terrible place.
Open your heart again, and let joy return to your life.
Don’t give up on love. Please.
walked slowly back toward her seat, eyes straight, never looking at
anyone. As she passed Matt,
he stood and pulled her into a tight hug.
She wanted so very much to bury her head into his shoulder and
break down. She wanted to
shed every tear she had been holding back for months.
But this poor man could barely hold himself up right now – he
certainly couldn’t hold her up as well.
So she reached deep down into herself and found the strength to
give him comfort through their embrace.
When he released her, she offered him a small, gentle smile of
support, then returned to her seat.
could see the strain in her daughter’s eyes.
She grabbed Trixie’s hand to lend her strength.
Trixie squeezed it briefly while she recomposed herself.
Then she let go to reach for a tissue and wipe the single tear from
her face. When Trixie settled
herself again, she calmly folded her hands in her lap and mentally
withdrew to her own quiet place. Watching
this return to isolation, Helen’s heart broke.
The Trixie she knew and loved was gone.
Would she ever return?
bright, warm sunshine on this early October morning was such a stark
contrast to the somber mourners at the graveside service.
A few simple prayers and remarks were made, and then those gathered
were asked to place a rose on the casket as they filed past to say their
held the large basket of white and red roses, Maddie’s favorites,
handing them out to the people in line.
She moved automatically, paying little attention to the procession.
She watched the front row, where the family sat waiting to be the
last to pass the casket.
Honey, and Jim sat side by side, but they had no contact with each other.
There were no hugs, no hand-holding, no leaning on each other.
None gave another a pat of support.
They didn’t speak to each other.
Each of the three was wrapped solidly in their own private grief,
and the walls between them were almost visible.
deep inside, a shadow of the old Trixie cried out to her: Go to them! Make
them talk to each other! Give
them all a great big hug!
it was only a shadow. The
mere thought of talking to anyone caused her to go weak in the knees from
exhaustion. The energy
required to force the family to turn to one other in their hour of need
was more than she had. She
had given them every last drop of her heart; her soul was empty.
Helping them was going to have to be someone else’s problem.
had so little energy left that her once-expressive face showed nothing.
Even her own family could not read the depths of her despair.
Mart and Brian watched her seemingly emotionless, uncaring attitude
with shock. They had observed
her all week as being distant, cold, unfriendly.
Their occasional attempts to speak to her had been coolly rebuffed.
They had no idea what was going on with her.
They knew only that Jim was more than willing to take their
support, and Trixie wanted nothing to do with them.
had felt the same wall. While
Honey welcomed her support, Trixie had sent her away, so Diana had given
Honey all she could. It’s
easier to lend a helping hand where it’s welcomed, Diana had
was so lost in his own grief that he couldn’t see anything.
Maddie had treated Dan, and all the Bob-Whites, like they were her
own, and Jim was as close as a brother.
Between flashing back to horrible memories of his parents’
funerals and trying to keep Jim from doing the same, he barely noticed
had lost his mother again. The
effort to hold himself upright, to refrain from crumbling to the ground
and crying like a baby, took all the energy he had and all the
energy he could draw from Dan, Brian, and Mart.
He wished over and over again for the energy and support he used to
be able to count on from Trixie. He
took no notice of her, other than to notice how absent she was from
was trapped in a nightmare, in which she found she had never come to
Sleepyside, and all her happy days had only been a dream.
She raged at God, wondering why He had ever allowed her to get
close to her mother. If she
had still had the distant, polite relationship with her mother from her
boarding school days, this wouldn’t hurt.
Why did God want her to hurt?
other members of their circle of family and friends reached out to help
where they could. They did
what they knew to do. But
none of them could figure Trixie out either, so they concentrated on
Honey, Jim, and Matt.
felt like he was moving through a solid wall of fog.
He could hear voices around him; he was aware of the people and
their words, even their feelings. But
he couldn’t reach out; he couldn’t speak to them; he couldn’t touch
them. All he could do was
cling to his last moments with Maddie.
deep down inside, he felt his children’s presence.
He felt their pain and wanted to soothe them, but he couldn’t
form the words.
he even know the words?
saw Trixie. Unlike everyone
else around them, he saw through her mask and knew her heart. He understood what she was doing and why.
He wanted to shake her and tell her she was wrong.
He wanted to grab her parents by the shoulders and make them see.
He wanted to tell them all: Don’t
you understand? She’s still
giving, in the only way she has left!
She won’t take your comfort because she thinks we need it more. She is refusing your love and strength, so you’ll give it
to us. She has none of her
own left to give, so she’s giving us yours.
wanted to do that, but he couldn't move.
raised his eyes to her face and made a silent promise.
When I break through this wall, Little One, I will take care of
you like you have taken care of me.