When we turned in later, we put Tristan between us and then Brandon and I lay on our sides facing him so we could place an arm across his body. Tristan looked at Brandon first, and then at me, as a weak smile formed on his lips.
“Goodnight and sweet dreams,” we both told him before kissing him on the forehead.
“Thank you for letting me sleep with you,” he said in response.
“We told you we’re here for you now, so anytime it would make you feel better if you did this, then just let us know.”
“K, I will.”
Ten minutes later we noticed his breathing had evened out, which meant he’d fallen asleep, so Brandon and I allowed ourselves to drift off as well. I’m not sure how long we’d been sleeping before Tristan’s screams caused us to sit bolt upright in bed.
“Mommy, mommy wake up! Mommy, please don’t leave me.”
His body was tense and he was panting heavily, and a panicked expression was etched upon his face as he repeated those phrases. As soon as we realized what was going on, Brandon stroked his hair and spoke to him in a very calm and reassuring voice.
“You’re ok, baby boy. You just had a bad dream, but it’s not real and nothing is going to hurt you. Calm down and go to sleep, because Danny and I are here to protect you.”
I’m not sure if Tristan woke up at any point, but Brandon’s soothing words appeared to do the trick because he visibly relaxed and calmed down. As soon as we were certain he was once again resting peacefully, Brandon and I kissed him on the forehead, but this time we wrapped an arm around his body, rather than just draping it over him. We hoped it would be enough to help him to have a dreamless slumber for the rest of the night.
When we awoke the next morning, Brandon and I opted to remain in bed with Tristan until he was awake too. When his eyes began to flutter and slowly opened, he looked at us strangely. “Why are you guys looking at me?”
“We just wanted to make sure you were all right,” Brandon explained. “You had a bad dream last night.”
“Don’t you remember?”
“I guess not.”
“That’s good, because it seemed like a bad one,” I added.
“Really? What happened?”
“You began shouting and woke us up.”
“What did I say?”
“We couldn’t understand everything you were saying, but you sounded scared,” Brandon fibbed to protect him from reliving the experience. “The only thing we could make out was when you said something about your mom.”
“That was a dream? You mean I didn’t do that when I found her at home, or when we went to see her and my dad earlier?”
“No. From what we were told you never saw your mom at home after she died, and you didn’t do anything like that at the funeral home either,” Brandon stated. “What did you think happened?”
Tristan’s head dropped toward his chest and tears started rolling down his cheeks. “I saw my mom and thought she was sleeping, but I couldn’t wake her up, so I got really scared.”
“That happens a lot when you see someone who has died,” I offered. “I’m sure it’s due to the fact that they often look like they’re just taking a nap.”
“But why did I think that, cuz I knew she was dead.”
“It’s probably because you miss her so much that your mind began playing a trick on you and made you believe that maybe she wasn’t really dead,” Brandon explained. “It’s not unusual for something like that to happen when you’ve lost someone you love.”
“I guess, cuz I miss her a lot.”
“I’m sure you do,” I agreed.
“So what happens today?” he followed as he looked at me and then at Brandon.
“After lunch we’ll go to the funeral home briefly, and then we’ll go to the church for the funeral service,” I advised him. “From there we’ll head to the cemetery for another brief service.”
“Will I get to see my mom and dad again, like I did yesterday?”
“You’ll have a chance to do that at the funeral home, but the caskets will be closed at the church and cemetery.”
“So there gonna put my mom and dad’s caskets in the ground?”
“Yes, they will, but we won’t stick around while that is taking place.”
“They won’t do it until everyone leaves and it will take quite a while to do it completely. It’s also best if the family doesn’t stay to watch it happen, because it tends to upset people even more.”
“Why? Is it cuz the bugs will get them once they’re in the ground?”
“No, that won’t happen,” I assured him. “The caskets are sealed shut first and they’re placed in a vault. That’s a large cement box with a lid that will help to keep the bugs out.”
“Are you ready to get out of bed now, so we can go downstairs and have breakfast?” Brandon asked, trying to prod him along.
“Yeah, let’s do that. I’m hungry.”
The other boys were already at the table, and Dad and Pop were busy fixing what they wanted and taking it in to them. Dad happened to spot us as we walked down the stairs. “Good morning. Just tell me what you want for breakfast and then sit down at the table while I fix it.”
After Dad explained the options to Tristan, he told Dad what he wanted and Brandon and I did the same. Then we went into the dining room to join the others.
“We wondered when you guys were gonna wake up,” Joshie teased as we entered the dining room. “We’ve been up for almost an hour.”
“We must have been more tired than usual,” I replied hoping it would discourage him and the others from asking any further questions about our tardiness.
“Don’t you have to work this morning?” Noah followed.
“No, we had our staffs reschedule our appointments for today,” I replied.
“So what time do we have to get dressed up again?” Ryan asked as we sat down.
“We’ll do it after lunch, so you’ll have to take your showers before then.”
We chatted about a bunch of different things as we ate, and after we finished Joshie and Benny asked Tristan if he wanted to go to the family room to watch TV. He agreed, so we let them go off on their own, but Brandon and I peeked in on them from time to time to make sure Tristan was holding up. I don’t think the boys ever saw us doing it, and Tristan didn’t appear as if he was actually tuned into what was on the screen. He seemed to be merely staring at it, because he wasn’t reacting like the other boys. He didn’t laugh when they did or get excited when the action intensified, so I had a feeling his mind was focused on what was going to happen later.
Around 11:00 I went in to tell the boys that it was time to shower, and they grudgingly did as I asked. Joshie quickly reminded Tristan that he’d agreed to shower with him, so they headed upstairs together. Joshie told me later that Tristan just stood there while he washed him, and then Tristan merely went through the motions when he returned the favor. I told Joshie not to take it personally and he could shower again with Tristan in a day or two, after he’d gotten through this rough period in his life.
Now that the boys had all showered, we had another quick meal, but none of us ate very much. We just weren’t in the mood. As soon as we finished, Brandon took Tristan up to his room to help him get dressed, and I helped the other boys with their ties. While I was helping Benny, he filled me in about something that happened in the family room earlier.
“While we was watching our shows, Tristan asked why Joshie and Wyatt called their dads Daddy and Poppy, but we just called both of you Dad.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“Ryan told him we used to call you that too, but when we got older we decided to just call both of you Dad.”
“And was he ok with that?”
“Yeah, but then he wanted to know what we did when you were together and we only wanted to talk to one of you. Ryan said when that happens we called you guys Dad Danny or Dad Brandon, but the rest of the time we just called you both Dad.”
“And was he satisfied with that answer?”
“Yeah, he said he just wanted to know what to call you when that happened.”
“Really? He hasn’t called either of us dad yet.”
“Maybe not, but I think he’s gonna.”
That was news to me, but it was a positive sign, if it were to happen.
Once the boys were ready, Brandon and I got dressed too, and then we joined the rest of the family in the foyer. Everyone rode in the same vehicles as the night before, and Benny and Joshie sat on either side of Tristan, like a couple of bodyguards. I’m not sure if Tristan was aware of what they were doing, but it didn’t seem to deter the other pair.
Tristan wasn’t quite as tense this time when we walked up to the caskets, and he surprised me when he spoke. “Dad Danny, would you pick me up so I can see my mom and dad better?”
“Sure, I’d be happy to,” I agreed as I lifted him in my arms.
I figured he might ask Brandon to do this again, since he’d done it for him the previous evening, but I guess Tristan didn’t want to hurt my feelings or show favoritism. I didn’t mind, though, and held him tightly as he leaned forward to kiss his mom, and again when he touched his dad’s hand.
He didn’t pull away as quickly when he did those things today, and after he kissed his mom on the cheek he whispered something in her ear. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it seemed important for him to do this, and he appeared more relaxed afterward.
He also held on to his dad’s hand a little longer this time, and he took a few seconds to whisper something in his ear as well. That conversation didn’t last as long as the one he had with his mom, but I assumed he used those opportunities to say goodbye to each of them, as well as sharing a more personal message with his mom.
After he’d spent a little more time with them, we let the funeral director know we were done so he could close the caskets. Dad, Pop, Dion, Trey, Noah, and Ryan served as temporary pallbearers and helped to load the caskets into the two hearses, and then we got into our vehicles and followed the hearses to our next destination.
When we pulled up in front of the church, six male congregants were waiting outside and immediately came down to help carry the caskets inside. There was no doubt about their intent, because they asked which casket was Tristan’s mother, so it appeared they felt closest to her. After they began carrying that casket inside, Dad, Pop, Dion, Trey, Noah, and Ryan did the same with the other casket, while Brandon and I took charge of Tristan and the other boys. We led them inside and went directly to a pew at the very front of the church and sat down. A minute later our family pallbearers joined us and we waited for the minister to begin.
During the funeral service, the minister shared several anecdotes about Tristan’s mom, but only made a brief mention about his dad. I’m not sure if this was because he hadn’t attended church services as frequently as his wife, or if some other factor was in play, but the minister was apparently quite fond of Tristan’s mother.
The rest of the service was the typical denominational sermon about the dearly departed going to join Jesus in his father’s mansion and that we would all be with them again some day. I thought Tristan was holding up fairly well, but that might have been at least partially due to the fact that the caskets were closed and he couldn’t actually see his parents at the moment. It might have also had something to do with the fact that I had an arm wrapped around Tristan’s shoulder and Brandon was holding his hand, but that didn’t prevent the tears from cascading down his cheeks.
When the service ended, we stayed in our seats as the pallbearers carried the caskets out of the church and loaded them into the hearses. We then followed them outside and got in our own vehicles as we formed a funeral procession with the others in attendance. We followed the hearses to the cemetery for the interment and waited until the caskets were in place.
Brandon and I then walked Tristan over to the gravesites, which were similar to every other funeral we’d attended. However, this time there were two holes in the ground, instead of just one, and each one had a metallic frame around it on which the pallbearers had placed the caskets. The dirt that had been removed from the graves was now covered with artificial grass rugs to make it less conspicuous, and chairs were set up in front of the gravesites for the family. We sat in the chairs in the front, with Tristan between us, while most of the others stood in a horseshoe around us.
Once everyone was in place, the minister made his final comments. When he finished, we led Tristan toward the caskets, but we stopped briefly so each of us could take two flowers out of one of the arrangements that had been brought there for this purpose.
“What are these for?” Tristan asked when we told him to select two flowers.
“It’s so you can place a flower on each of your parents’ caskets, and we’ll do the same. After we’ve done that, anyone else who wants to take part in honoring your parents this way can do the same.”
After we’d completed that final act, we returned to our vehicles and got ready to leave. I could see the cemetery workers standing nearby, waiting to do their jobs, but fortunately Tristan was too lost in his thoughts to have spotted them. Eventually we drove off and headed home.
“That wasn’t all the flowers that we saw at the funeral home,” Tristan said as we were driving away. “So why didn’t they bring those there too?”
“They just brought enough so everyone could take two flowers and place them on the caskets if they wanted,” Brandon explained.
“So will they throw the other flowers away?”
“No, the other flowers will be donated to the hospital and the nursing home to help those people feel a little better.”
“Oh, ok. That sounds nice.”
Once we arrived at the house and went inside, Brandon instructed the boys about what they needed to do next. “Hang your suits up and put your dress shirts in the laundry. Once you’ve done that, then you can do whatever you want for a couple of hours.”
The other boys immediately rushed off, but Tristan didn’t budge and remained standing between Brandon and me. “Would you like one of us to help you get changed and take care of your suit?” I asked, since I wasn’t sure what he was waiting for.
“Uhhh, yeah,” he replied, although he still didn’t move.
“Ok, then let me do that for you,” I offered as I took his hand and led him up to his bedroom.
Tristan did the bare minimum as I helped him take off his suit and put on something more appropriate. He never said a word and only reacted when I said something first, and once we were done I led him downstairs again.
“Do you want to go join the other boys?”
“Ummm, can I stay with you and Dad Brandon?”
“Of course you can. Let’s go into the living room then.”
On my way there I had an idea and sat down in the rocking chair. I then pulled Tristan onto my lap and gently began to rock back and forth. He leaned his head against my chest, still completely silent, and we stayed that way for several minutes before Brandon came in to join us. He flashed me a weak smile when he saw what I was doing and sat down on the sofa beside us. No words were spoken as we focused on Tristan and attempted to gauge how he was holding up.
“Can we go there next Saturday and see what it looks like?” Tristan asked breaking the awkward silence.
“Of course we can,” I agreed.
“And we’ll take you there as often as you like,” Brandon added.
“K, I’d like that.”
Joshie and Benny came looking for Tristan a little while later, but they merely peeked into the living room and didn’t say anything before leaving. I assumed their original intent had been to cheer Tristan up by asking him to join them, but they changed their minds once they realized we were taking care of Tristan and noticed how he was clinging to me.
Brandon and I stayed with Tristan for over an hour, and he only left my lap when he announced that he had to use the toilet. We told him he could use the downstairs bathroom, and when he returned I lifted him onto my lap again.
“Thank you for staying with me when we got home. I was really sad, but I feel better now that I know you guys love me the same way my mom did.”
“We’re glad you feel that way, because we love you just as much as we love the other boys,” Brandon responded.
“I know, and you love me more than my dad did. He would never do the stuff that you did for me yesterday and today. He would have told me to go find my mom, but you guys are different.”
“I’m afraid some men have trouble showing their sons how much they love them, but it doesn’t mean your dad didn’t love you,” I offered.
“But he never wanted to do nothin’ with me. He just did those things alone.”
“But it doesn’t mean he didn’t love you. He probably just didn’t know how to show it, so instead he avoided spending time with you.”
“But you don’t do that.”
“It’s because we have our own way of showing that we love you.”
“Yeah, and I like your way better.”
“We’re glad,” I agreed.
“Yes, we are,” Brandon chimed in.
“Can I go see what Benny and Joshie are doin’ now?”
“Of course you can, and we’ll be here if you need some time alone with us later.”
When I went to check on the boys later, I was surprised to see they were merely watching TV, rather than playing games. I wasn’t sure whose idea it was, but I thought I’d check with Benny or Joshie later to gain some insight. I got that chance when I stopped Benny as he was heading to the bathroom.
“What are you boys doing?”
“We’re just watchin’ a movie.”
“Oh, I thought you might be playing games on the PlayStation.”
“Nah, Tristan said he didn’t feel like playin’ games.”
“Oh, is everything ok with him?”
“Yeah, he just said he wanted to be with us, but he didn’t want to play any games, so we turned off the PlayStation and found somethin’ to watch on TV instead.”
“That was very thoughtful of you.”
“Thanks. Can I go now, cuz I gotta pee really bad?”
“Sure, go take care of business.”
Under the circumstances it didn’t surprise me that Tristan didn’t want to play any games. I suppose he probably would have just watched the boys if they wanted to continue doing that, but they offered to do something else instead. It seems they were being considerate, since they knew what Tristan had just gone through earlier, and I was very proud of them.
I told the other adults about this as well, because I thought they should know how thoughtful the boys were being. I figured we could do something special for them the following weekend, and hopefully Tristan will be less troubled by then.
As soon as we finished eating dinner, Tristan asked to speak with Brandon and me. “Watcha gonna do tonight?” he wanted to know.
“I’m not sure. Did you have something in mind?”
“Yeah, I want to be with you guys tonight. Is that ok?”
“Of course it is, but are we talking about before it’s time to go to bed or do you want to sleep with us again.”
“Ummm, can I do both.”
“Certainly,” Brandon answered. “What would you like to do before it’s time to go to sleep?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t feel like playin’ any games.”
“What about watching a movie with us then?” I suggested.
“Yeah, that would be ok.”
“We have several Christmas DVDs, if you’d like to watch a Christmas movie.”
“Which ones do you got?”
“Let’s see. We have The Santa Clause, Scrooge the musical version, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Elf.”
“Ummm, How the Grinch Stole Christmas or Elf.”
“We can watch one tonight and the other tomorrow night, so which would you like to watch first?”
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
“Ok, I’ll go get it and we’ll watch it on the TV in the living room, in case the other boys want to use the PlayStation.”
On the way to get it, I told the other boys what we were going to do, in case they wanted to join us. Wyatt said he did, but Benny and Joshie were going to play games instead, since they didn’t get a chance to do it earlier.
“Can Tristan sleep with us tonight?” Benny asked next.
“He’s already asked to sleep with us again. I think today was pretty rough on him and that’s why he wants to be with us.”
When I returned to the living room, I popped in the DVD and we sat on the sofa to watch it, with Benny sitting between Brandon and me, and Wyatt on the other side of Brandon. Tristan seemed to be enjoying the movie, but when he saw the snow it prompted him to ask a question.
“Will my mom and dad get cold when it snows, cuz they’ll be in the ground?”
“Their bodies will be in the ground, but their souls will be in heaven, so they won’t be cold,” I answered.
“Good,” he responded simply before focusing on the movie again.
When it ended, we sent all the boys upstairs to put on their PJs and brush their teeth. Dion, Trey, Brandon, and I then went to tuck them in, and we allowed Dion and Trey go first. Tristan followed behind Brandon and me so he could watch as we went through our nightly ritual with the other boys. We started with Wyatt, and then went to Benny and Joshie’s room, and finally we said goodnight to the older pair.
“How come you didn’t kiss Ryan and Noah goodnight like you did with everyone else?”
“It’s because they think they’re too old for us to kiss them,” I replied.
“I’ll never be too old, cuz I like when you do that.”
“We like it too,” Brandon confirmed, “and we’ll do it as long as you want.”
He smiled as he crawled into bed between us, and then we cuddled with him as we fell asleep.