Literary Journal – Spring 2016

An Unusual Day

Memoir by Carol L. Kretovich

It wasn’t even daylight when the biz, biz, of the alarm rang in my ear. With one eye cracked open I peered at the red flashing numbers on the alarm clock. 5:00, 5:00, 5:00 flashing in and out, deep red, then light red. It cannot be time to get up I groaned as I rolled onto my side then moved my body into an upright position on the edge of the bed. I sat there trying to get both eyes open. Slowly I placed both feet on the floor, then moved one foot in front of the other wobbling from side to side as I staggered into the bathroom. I thought about all the years I worked my corporate job when I arose at 4:30 AM, showered, and left the house by 5:30 to be at work before 6:30! How did I ever do it?? If I am out of bed by 7:00 AM now I think it’s fantastic.

Today, Wednesday, September 2, 2015 is a special day. Exactly 50 years ago today you were born. Over the last two months, I planned to do something special to commemorate your special birthday. Unfortunately you are no longer here with us, so there will not be a wonderful surprise party with friends and family to celebrate the day. You loved parties. Although you hated to be center of attention, you always enjoyed the festivities.

I precisely planned the day so it would be special. First a mass dedicated in your honor, then on the way to the cemetery I would pick up flowers. My plan was to get 50 white roses, one for each year. The white roses were symbolic to me. I received a white rose on the day you were born from my sweet loving grandfather who was so thrilled to be a great grandfather for the first time. “A rose for his little rose” he would say. From that day forward he always referred to you as his “little one”. Also, Dad and I sent you 21 white roses for your 21st birthday and at your funeral there was a spray of 31 white roses representing your age, lined across the inner lid of your shiny mauve casket.

White roses were also your favorite. You specifically requested them for your prom as I had done many years before. My prom was in February and your Dad had such a difficult time locating a florist that would even be able to order them. Originally I had thought these were your favorite because of me and the story associated with the day you were born. However later in life you advised me that it was due to not only the special gift from your great grandfather but also because your favorite picture of St Theresa (your favorite saint) displayed her carrying white roses.

I looked at the clock. It is getting late. I called to Dad reminding him that mass started at 6:30 AM sharp. He worked the day before, was extremely tired, and getting out of bed was such a chore. The swish, swish, swish of his slippers as his feet scuffled on the floor indicated how slowly he was moving. Entering into the bathroom his eyes were still shut. Once showered, we were both revived and flying around the house. Finally out the door we went, hopped into the car, and drove the five miles to church. As we pulled into the driveway we noticed the entire parking lot was empty and not a single light was on in church.

With his brows lowered and a seriously inquisitive look on his face, Dad turned around to me and said “did you get the date correct”? What!!! How in the world could I mess up the date? The mass was to commemorate Ginny’s birthday! I know the date. Remember I was there. We both began to chuckle. It was still about ten minutes before the mass would begin. We just sat there gazing straight ahead, eyes wide open like a deer in headlights. Without our first cup of coffee of the day, we may have looked awake but that was dubious.

After a few minutes the church administrator pulled up next to our automobile, rolled down her window and questioned if we were waiting for mass. We nodded our heads up and down to indicate yes. She advised all 6:30 masses were cancelled. In a high pitch squeaky voice I responded “that’s not possible. I paid to have a mass dedicated to my daughter for her birthday months ago”. I was never contacted and advised the mass was cancelled. Nonchalantly as she drove away she stated, it was in listed in last week’s church paper.

We were away the prior weekend so we never saw the paper. I scrunched my lips to hold back the anger. I could feel my face getting red. Frustrated I mumbled “just another instance where the church does what it wants to do without concern for parishioners”. The church had every right to contact me!

We now had a dilemma. Today was also Alexis’ first day of school. If we waited for the 9:00 AM mass we would miss her boarding the school bus. Watching her board the school bus was a ritual we followed every year since Kindergarten. We especially enjoyed seeing her excitement as she joined the friends she had not seen all summer.

Alexis has always held a special place in our hearts. A grandchild of our own could not be loved more. Your God-child Noelle named her Alexis Virginia after you and your daughter Alexis. From the time she was born we would have a special night (Tuesday) to visit her. We never missed a Halloween parade at day care or school and attended soccer, school plays, concerts, dances, and cheerleading. Dad would babysit Alexis for Noelle when she worked on Saturday’s. He loved every minute of it taking her in the stroller for walks and to the park. When Noelle arrived home from work Alexis was fed, bathed, and ready for bed. Their bond could not be stronger.

In all the years since you passed I never missed a mass for you. At first it was unsettling to me. I told myself keeping our promise to Alexis was much more important. She would be extremely disappointed if we missed seeing her get on the bus. She was new to the neighborhood, didn’t know anyone on her bus, and was a little apprehensive about starting a new school.

Noelle advised there was this special backpack she wanted. Hoping to ease her apprehension about school, Dad and I bought her the backpack. It was not easy to locate but after an extensive search we found it. She told us the backpack was one she had wanted for two whole years! It was a Jansport backpack with a blue and black hounds tooth design. Evidently Jansport is the “in thing” for pre-teens and teens. She was thrilled when we gave it to her and thought she was “hot stuff”. Alexis was so determined to use it before school started, she drove her mother crazy trying to convince her it was a necessity “to break it in”. Noelle would not back down on her initial restriction of keeping it for the first day of school.

When we arrived at their house thirty minutes before the bus left, Alexis was sitting in the chair all dressed and ready to go. The “infamous” backpack was fully packed and sitting on the floor beside her. She was so proud of it. As always, I snapped an enormous amount of pictures with and without the backpack so they could be included with pictures from prior years.

Alexis is such a joy. She reminds me so much of you. Not only is she very intelligent like you but she has your organizational skills. She keeps her mother on track reminding Noelle of the things they need to do and when they need to do them. I remember how I never needed a calendar when you were around. I also never had a telephone book (it was before digital phones) because all I needed to do was ask you for a phone number and address and you rattled it off like you were reading it from a book. When you passed I did not know a single person’s phone number to contact them.

It is now 8:20 and Alexis is letting us know we need to leave the house for the bus.  Standing on the corner where the bus should arrive, we are wondering what happened to all the people. No one was there. I’m questioning Noelle. Did she write down the correct address? Wrensong and Dove she says. We are now at Wrensong and North Dove. Was it North Dove, or South Dove I asked? Totally confused Noelle is trying to remember what was on the website. In the distance Alexis sees the bus and points. There it is Mom, bus 55! She runs down the street to be sure the bus doesn’t leave without her. The bus stops and she hops on. We waive as the bus passes by, not sure if Alexis sees us. We cannot see her but are hoping she sees us waiving. Noelle then takes Nelia (Alexis’ sister) from Dad’s arms, gets in her car, and off to work she goes.

Our next stop is Produce Junction to pick up flowers. The flowers there are always so beautiful and very reasonable. I am determined to obtain white flowers for you. Dad wonders why I am so worried about getting white flowers. It is a very hot day and in the hot summer sun the flowers will not last the day. White is her favorite and she should have white on her birthday I state. I thought it might be difficult locating 50 white roses so my original plan was to supplement the real ones with artificial.  However prior to your birthday I searched numerous stores for artificial white roses. My efforts were futile. An artificial white rose could not be found. So without artificial, it was important to me to get the real ones.

Produce Junction did have some beautiful flowers, not as many roses as usual, and not a single white one! Although I am disappointed I cannot get white they do have some beautiful pink ones. I am able to obtain four dozen pink roses in graduated hues from extremely light pink, almost white to a gorgeous deep pink similar to the pink on the breast cancer symbol. Each dozen consists of thirteen roses (a baker’s dozen), fifty two in all. I’ve decided to keep the two extra roses for myself.

After picking up the roses, we are off to the cemetery. I am envisioning how I would meticulously arrange these flowers across the grave before praying for your eternal peace and happiness. I would then relay my heartfelt message to you before leaving. It was a ritual I exercised routinely for the last eighteen years. I always felt the routine was a dedication to you but in later years I have begun to realize the ritual was more to console me of your loss.

Up to a few years ago I always made the excursion to the cemetery myself because Dad was working. He would stop after work on the way home. The ritual was always the same, mass, flowers, cemetery. I would leave the cemetery, drive to a quiet peaceful area of the park, sit quietly in the gazebo and with the wind blowing against my face, would cry incessantly.

As we near the cemetery, we find ourselves behind an extremely long funeral procession. Approximately sixty automobiles moving slower than a turtle. We patiently wait as we inch forward every 10 minutes. At this rate it will take until dinner time to reach the cemetery entrance. Just then Dad looks at the clock and reminds me I have only twenty minutes to arrive at the audiologist office. I was so wrapped up in the task at hand, the appointment completely slipped my mind. I cannot believe we almost reached the entrance and now must leave. What luck!

We get out of line and drive quickly to the audiologist. In and out of the office, then back on the road to the cemetery. Approximately 1 ½ hours later, when we finally arrive at the cemetery the temperature has reached almost 98 degrees. Approaching the grave we realize we have forgotten the green vases and water for the flowers. What else could go wrong? Tired, hot, and very aggravated we hop back in our automobile and drive out of the cemetery. Luckily we remember we can purchase the water and vases at a local deli.

Quickly we purchase the necessary items and drive back to the cemetery and grave. Dad immediately jumps out of the car, grabs the roses, sticks them into the vases then discovers they are too tall for the vases. Realizing we need to cut the stems so the roses will fit, Dad reaches his boiling point. He loses his cool and is uttering a few choice words I would rather not repeat. He grabs the flowers and is sitting on the ground next to the car cutting the stems. The heat from the motor exacerbates the 98 degree temperature. His face is as red as candied apples and sweat is pouring down the side of his face. Feeling sorry for him sitting on the ground sweating and feeling sorry for myself that I am missing you so much, complete frustration sets in. I am now sitting in the sweltering hot car sobbing. The day was just not supposed to turn out this way!

Finally the flowers are meticulously arranged on the grave and I snap a few pictures. On the ride home I am thinking about the events of the day. I question myself if all the stress was worth the outcome. Dad and I are both totally physically and mentally exhausted. We force ourselves to go through this ritual year after year under the pretense it is to commemorate you. Our epiphany is that we fill up our day with mundane tasks to divert us from feeling sorry for not having you here with us. We now know our grief will not change by this ritual. We will forever miss you. Our consolation is that you knew we loved you with every fiber of our being and I am sure you know we miss you terribly. We have decided to change our ritual and celebrate future anniversaries and birthdays in ways that symbolize your life and personality.


Carol Kretovich: As a lost soul after retirement from my technical and managerial profession, I searched for a new purpose in life after my daughter’s death.  Writing her memoir allowed me to retell her story of her illness and to find my new identity as I resolved my personal issues about it.