Excerpt: 'Love You, Mean It'

Julia reminded herself that, after all, she'd been one of the "lucky ones." She'd had a wake and a proper funeral for her husband a week after September 11, one of the first of the thousands of funerals and memorials that would take place over the course of the coming year. As she listened to the rest of us talking that night, she knew she wanted to share her own experience with us. That a funeral hadn't brought her any closure or acceptance. That she was just like us in so many ways. "You know, when I went to the funeral home to pick out a coffin for Tommy..." Julia stopped mid-sentence. "What am I even saying? Ten months later and I still can't believe I'm talking about a coffin for my husband. How is that possible? A funeral for Tommy? At the funeral home I started begging the -- what do you call him, the funeral director? -- to let me see the body, to let me hold his hand or something. I told him I needed to see him because I had to make sure it was Tommy. The funeral director wouldn't let me. He assured me that I needed to remember him as he was." Julia explained that, at that time, she was still convinced that Tommy was alive. She'd figured it out. The CIA must have been so impressed with Tommy's cleverness in getting out of the building, that they'd hired him on the spot. They'd told him he had to go away for a while, but he would be back in a year or two when his mission had been completed. Tommy couldn't be dead.

Julia had a body, a wake, a funeral, a tombstone, and a gravesite. She even got his wallet, cell phone, computer, and Day-Timer, all the things he had with him that day. "But you know what?" she told the rest of us. "All these months later, it hasn't stopped me thinking he's coming back. It hasn't taken away the pain. It doesn't make it any better."

Maybe we'd recognized it from our previous meetings, but at the bar, it was becoming clearer. One of the reasons we were drawn together had to do with the license we gave one another just to talk and talk without worrying about bringing others down or saying the wrong thing or making anyone uncomfortable with the degree of our unhappiness. That night, we traded stories, going back and forth. We were getting to know one another, tracing the invisible threads pulling us together, figuring out the links. We talked about our husbands, how special our time with them had been. It uplifted us to talk about our marriages. Our husbands were our best friends, our soul mates, the men we'd taken it for granted we'd grow old with. We'd had these men in our lives and now they were gone. What were we supposed to do? How were we supposed to move forward? How is it possible to be planning your future one day and the next thing you know, all that planning doesn't mean a thing? We were all asking the same questions. Had nostalgia set in? Maybe every widow thinks her husband is perfect in retrospect.It's much easier to idolize someone who's no longer around, when he's not here to make you roll your eyes when he leaves his dirty underwear on the bathroom floor, or he drives too fast, or hogs the remote control. It wasn't that we thought our husbands were perfect. We'd known they'd had their faults. It was just that we'd tried not to let the petty annoyances come between us. We'd shared a bond that made the inconsequential seem just that.

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