Marie-Laure Carmichael was buried on a cold and foggy morning, in the space between Zachary’s grave and the empty plot reserved for my father. The funeral was well-attended, not just by the Carmichael clan but by neighbors, former students, and women from her various committees and clubs that had been trying to save the world since the Great War.
Rather than a priest, which my mother would never have tolerated, my uncle David gave the graveside service. He spoke about how she had left her familiar world behind to marry this American doughboy; how they had dedicated their lives to teaching children often forgotten by the mainstream school system, children of immigrants, children who didn’t speak English beyond a few words, children who had to rise at dawn just to walk to the nearest school where they usually weren’t welcome anyway. He spoke about her devotion to her children, how each of us had gone to college because there was never any doubt we would; how when war was declared she told her sons to follow our conscience and do what we thought was right.
I had joined the army with stars and stripes in my eyes, determined to defend the free world from the Nazi threat. Zachary had joined as a conscientious objector; the military made him a medic, and he spent the war with a Red Cross insignia on his arm.
I expected to give my life. That’s what soldiers do. Zachary, though — Zachary, with his new wife and little daughter, was supposed to live.
The four off us — Dad, Duncan, Mary Kate, and me — sat in the front row of mourners. My father barely moved, only smiled sometimes when David spoke of a particularly good memory, and as I looked at him I wished I could say something to make this better. But how can you help someone to stop missing the love of their life?
Between us sat Mary Kate, and we held each other’s hands until Rosemary’s chant of, “Ma, ma, ma,” grew more insistent and Mary Kate rose to take the baby from George.
I moved into the empty seat beside my father and patted his back. He glanced at me, and then put his hand on top of mine, which was enough to make my eyes well and my throat close.
The cemetery was more peaceful than I expected it to be. A few decades before, many of the cemeteries within the San Francisco city limits were moved to nearby Colma, where the land was plentiful and the people few; in the manner of many such undertakings, less care was taken with the remains than should have been. On the drive from the city, I had worried that I would see the dead everywhere I looked, but today, whatever restless spirits might be attached to this place kept to themselves.
After the funeral, we had a wake at my aunt Rhoda and uncle David’s house, which was just down the hill from Mom and Dad’s. On such occasions before the war I wandered through the guests and never stayed in any one place for long, but my leg prevented that now. I parked myself near my father and accepted all the sympathy my mother’s friends and neighbors felt the need to express as graciously as I could.