I knew when I went to sleep last night that today would be one of those sentimental, reflective days that one always carries with them. While I was at Rowdy's annual family reunion on Saturday, my cell phone rang and the voice on the other end bore a heart-breaking tale. Christi Price, the wife of one of my father's oldest and most loyal friends, had died.
Now LC, Christi's husband, has been a staple in my family since, well, before I was born. Long before this tragedy happened, I've thought of his life in the sort of Homer's Odyssey. Much like my dad, it seems as though he has already squeezed 100 lifetimes into this one. When LC met Christi, they were both raising young children. I was a teenager and periodically baby-sat his two wild urchins, Joshua and Caleb, who have both grown into respectable young men. Kind of gives me hope for the two caged animals currently leaping over my furniture as though they are monkeys instead of boys.
One evening while I watched the Price boys, one of them caught a pile of leaves on fire, which promptly scorched onto the fence. Not long ago, Christi and I talked about that incident. Most women, especially one who was already raising two kids, might would've been scared off a little by such an incident, but Christi laughed at this even when LC couldn't. I've never really been a believer in soul mates, in the notion that two souls were split and then sent on some unlikely journey for a possible reunion. However, if there were ever a case of such, it would be in these two. Never has the term "blended family" been so accurate. LC and Christi brought their lives and their children together and it couldn't be seen where one ended and the other began. They were just one, a solid unit. LC had his three sons, Christi had a boy and a girl and then they added the sixth not long after they married.
When both my children and my sister's children were born, Christi sent gifts so thoughtful and extravagant that it almost embarrassed us to keep them. Periodically, just out of the blue, she would call me to request a new photo of my kids to be emailed to her.
I also want to note that both of Christi's parents and one of her grandparents are still alive. As a parent, I cannot even begin to measure their pain. I don't really know them, but from them came Christi. I think that speaks volumes.
Driving to Elk City this morning, I thought about the day laying before me and what it might hold. As I did, a quote from Rose Kennedy, the mother of the slain president and senator, ran through my mind.
"I tell myself that God gave my children many gifts -- spirit, beauty, intelligence, the capacity to make friends and to inspire respect. . . . There was only one gift he held back -- length of life. "
As I walked into the church with my mom and sister, I was struck by all the people. There was no one "group" or age. Almost every generation and economic sector was represented. Against the large, white wall, a video of Kristi's life lead us, the mourners, through her early years as a smiley baby to now, a smiley mother.
And then came the photographs of Christi and LC. They weren't posed. They weren't taken in the studio. They seemed to be photos snapped when neither of the two knew they were being captured. They were both cool in their skin around each other. As the video replayed several times, that caught my attention each time.
And it hit me -- romance was here, dancing all around us, even in the most tragic of situations. As a wedding photographer, I am frequently in ceremonies were every little detail is selected for sentimental reasons, often to honor this person who is the object of their affection. And while this scenario, a funeral, is the virtual opposite of a wedding, a commencement, oddly I noticed so many similarities. In this, LC's adoration for Kristi was seen. The tribute that LC and their children gave through the two ministers was evident of that.
It was the stuff that made Beethoven's Immortal Beloved and Poe's Annabelle Lee and almost every pen stroke of Shakespeare's. Love transcending time, even death. I knew in that moment that while the whole world may never know this particular narrative, that this will be one of greatest love stories of all time.
As the bagpipe playing Amazing Grace faded into the Oklahoma prairie, Kristi was laid to rest in a golden vault. Like I said, there were so many parallels to a wedding in his farewell. The burial LC gave his wife was a grand gesture, an eternal monument to the value he held for her.
My dear friend Lyndi told me once that when someone dies, our relationship with them doesn't end. It just changes a little. Although the nature of LC and Christi's relationship will obviously evolve, I know he will continue to love her in his daily life. He'll do it by raising their children to be like her -- funny, kind, successful, happy. He described her as the glue that held their family together and, even though she won't be physically present now, I don't see why that would be any different.
I've always been a romantic and, unless you are one as well, I'm sure you think that applies to reading Harlequin romance novels during nap time. If you are a romantic, you know what I'm talking about -- hanging your late grandfather's work shirt by the front door, the ticket stub to your first concert, the song you listened to when you realized you were in love. Most folks believe that romance applies only to lovers and the physical acts related directly to that, we romantics know differently. And today, as I sadly watched a broken man bid an earthly farewell to his love, I felt romance consume the chapel. It was in each piano stroke from a thoughtfully selected song. It was in the air and in the ground and everything in between.