This story is one of the April Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
He had stared, unseeingly, unblinkingly, unflinchingly as the casket was lowered into the ground. It wasn’t what she would have wanted. As they sat in their favorite clearing in the woods a year prior, she’d told him about how cremation was bad for the environment, and she had never wanted to be buried in a box in the ground, alone, cold, rotting.
You’ve put a lot of thought into this, he’d said. He’d smiled at her, thinking that death was far, far away — a speck, drifting across the horizon, slipping out of sight, too far away to be worried about.
Of course I have, she’d replied. Death is inevitable. If I can help the world even when I’m gone, that would be one of my proudest moments. She went on to tell him that she wanted to be recomposed, buried in the ground with decomposing nutrients and — of all things — an oak tree seed.
It’ll be like my body is fertilizer for the tree, she’d told him. Oak trees are so strong, so large, so full of potential. They support so much life. How amazing would that be? It’s like reincarnation, almost, into a tree.
If you say so, he’d answered, soaking in the sun and the wind and her presence.
It was only a few weeks after this conversation when she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
He was by her side through almost every moment of it all. The migraines, the seizures, the heartwrenching painfulness of watching her lose her bits of memory and herself.
She had always been a good writer. Her outlet was the words she poured from her heart onto paper. The pen was the tool she used to express her thoughts, her ideas, her perspectives. She wrote constantly, even as her health deteriorated. The pen had been always moving, always twirling, always scratching away.
She was bedridden within six months, and he’d read to her every day, not quite sure if she could hear him, but wanting her to go peacefully, listening to her favorite stories, her dearest inspirations, her best memories.
He had held the letter she had written him tightly in his hands, as he stood heavily at her funeral. It was the letter that kept him so stoic, so still, no broken pieces in sight. He had never been able to figure out why he loved her quite so much. It was both a curse and a blessing. He’d grown up knowing that everyone would leave eventually, but he didn’t know why it had to be so soon for her, his selfless angel.
Throughout the funeral, he’d glanced down at the sloping letters of her disheveled handwriting multiple times to compose himself, to remind himself what he was here for.
to my person —
complete before we even met,
we complemented each other instead
leaving a blazing trail in our footsteps
as we danced, ran, chased after our dreams
while love is terrifying, grief is even more
you were a spark of brightness on my dark horizon
an inspiration to continue on, to never go out without a bit of fire
so please go on for me —
discover, explore, learn, persevere, laugh, love,
live your life to its fullest capacity,
brimming with happiness and memories
complete yourself once more, as you have always been —
i will never regret knowing you, loving you.
Now, as he stood in the clearing where they had had that fateful conversation about death, he had a feeling of complete tranquility. He looked at the letter in his hands one last time. It had been shredded to tiny pieces and soaked lightly in water. When they finally fell from his hands, each piece seemed to float, to drift upon the air, before it landed lightly at the bottom of the small hole he had dug. Next to go in was the fertilizer that he had handpicked — all natural. Last was the seed from an oak tree, collected from the very one in his backyard that she had loved. Soon, the hole in his heart was refilled and water sprinkled like his silent tears across the land, and all was at peace again.