I can’t believe I’ve put off the girls’ night out for so long. I relax into the plush leather seats of the stretch limo, sip my appletini and enjoy the sights from a chauffeuree’s point of view. My insides buzz with anticipation of what this Friday evening may turn into.
A twist of my diamond-studded watch reveals I’ve been cruising for over thirty minutes. It’s no fun drinking alone; I spend way too much time by myself as it is. I tap the intercom to ask my driver to speed it up.
Before I can beckon, the smooth ride glides to a stop. Just when I realize we’ve parked in front of Ellie’s house, the rear door swings open, revealing the four shrouded faces of my closest friends beneath sheer black veils.
Panic halts my buzz, burning my insides as I recognize this is no girls’ night out at all. I admit, the limo is a little over the top, even for Ellie, but I’m not prepared for this. Not tonight.
“Excuse me, driver, will you kindly turn this boat around? I have a change in plans,” I plead, resisting the gentle tug pulling me from the spacious rear seat.
I stagger along in my sensible low-heeled pumps as my friends guide me along the side of the palatial estate toward the guest house.
“Don’t say anything until you are inside,” Ellie warns, breaking from the pack. “Don’t loosen your grip either. We don’t want her taking off.”
The flames of the tiki torches dance and sway, illuminating our path as we walk. I’m hypnotized by the steady hymn of “Amazing Grace” playing from the poolside speakers. The tune floats with the gentle autumn breeze, getting louder with each step. I shiver at the mood the music and ambiance have cast upon me. A contrast to the bubbly feeling I had just minutes ago.
The front door of the guest house creaks open, revealing Ellie, elegant as usual, dressed in a silky black camisole and trouser pants. Her long-sleeved button-down blouse rests gently against her skin, showing off her curves. The only bits of color are her ruby red lips and fiery nail polish.
She hands me a rectangular card, about half the size of an envelope, which I’m too preoccupied to acknowledge.
Inside the living room, the furniture has been replaced by a handful of white folding chairs arranged in a row and facing a small table. A single candle in a hurricane vase illuminates the area. Something tiny sits on the table, but I can’t make it out.
Nudging me along as I look around in wonder, Ellie leads me to a chair directly in front of the table. After I’ve been seated, my friends Jaynie, Betsy and Trish sit next to me. They, too, are dressed in varying shades of black. The black veils are absent, revealing their solemn faces. Even more intriguing are the identical cards they also hold.
Ellie approaches the small table and collects the tiny item. She kneels next to me, reaches for my left hand and gently removes my diamond solitaire wedding ring. My hands are shaking and my first instinct is to quickly withdraw and dart out the door. Instead, I sit quietly because I know this is for my own good.
The tiny item is a crystal jewelry box with a golden engraved plate affixed to the lid. The candlelight reflects off the shiny inscription, a mirror of the serene mood in the room.
Ellie’s been working on me for months trying to get me to commit to a ceremony. It was an idea from a magazine article.
I relax a bit and, with morbid curiosity, wait to see how this is going to play out.
She removes the cover and nestles my ring onto a small post inside the crystal box. She returns the lid as the base and top clink together, and hands it to me.
Sauntering back to the small table she heaves a large box onto the table top. Reaching inside, she extracts a small garden spade with a black silk bow tied around the handle.
I let out a nervous laugh when Ellie hands me the spade, a rarely seen somber expression cast upon her pretty face. I glance at my friends. Each nods gently, dabbing tears from their eyes with handkerchiefs.
Thinking this could be therapeutic, I feel the weight of the tool in my hand and make my way to the large box.
With both hands full, I take a moment to read the card Ellie handed me earlier. A “remembrance card” identical to those given to mourners entering a funeral home at the time of a visitation.
Ornate calligraphy is scrolled across the parchment card—Lillian Grace and Miles Lee Duncan, March 18, 1995–August 1, 2009.
My eyes sting as I linger over our anniversary date. Once so significant, a day I looked forward to each year. Now it’s just a day I dread.
Ellie joins me to officiate. “Dear Friends. We’ve gathered here on this night to assist Lillian Grace Duncan with a ceremonial passage as she lets go of a symbol of her past and wish her a future as bright as the stars above.” She motions to the twinkling lights that glitter through the skylights.
Turning to me, she gingerly extracts the pamphlet from my clenched fists, gently waving it. “Lilly, I have printed fourteen remembrance cards, each representing a year of marriage to Miles.” My heart skips a beat while I await her usual scowl when speaking his name, but it doesn’t come.
“Each of us has one, and you have the remaining ten. One in your hand, and nine in this stack.” Ellie gestures to the remaining nine neatly placed next to another tall box with a lid and a slotted opening in the top.
Tapping the box, she states, “Say one memory of your life with Miles you wish to release as you fold the card and tuck it inside the box. As a show of what you are letting go, hollow out one scoop of sand toward the bottom. We’ve each prepared a comment to accompany our cards as well, but you first.”
My knees buckle when I slide in the first card. Visions of myself at a real funeral, playing the role of a widow taking the seat in the wife’s mourning chair, flood my thoughts as I ease into the seat behind me.
Trish quickly comes to my aid and offers me a glass of cold water. With a shaky sip, I sort through the flashes of my courtship and marriage, attempting to organize them into coherent thoughts.
With a final sniff into my handkerchief, I pull the energy from my fellow mourners and ease upward.
“I’m not sure if this is what you wanted, but my immediate thoughts are of our children.” Through misty eyes I stare into their expectant faces. “I’ll always remember the love Miles and I shared as we created each of them. I will forever be thankful for the gifts he has given me and the family we once were. I place those memories in the box to cherish and protect. Not to forget.”
I softly tap the top of the ballot box as if it were a closed coffin. Digging into the sand, I gently extract a single scoop and construct a mound beside the tiny burial site.