Love is Like a Dying Ember and Only Memories Remain

I don’t remember what happened next. I don’t remember where Sean took me. Home? Joyce’s? My next memory is planning the funeral.

Joyce said she knew I was an atheist and disapproved of the Catholic Church, so we couldn’t have Tonia’s funeral at her and Jerome’s church. I told her my beliefs didn’t matter; to have the funeral wherever she needed to. I went to the funeral home with Joyce, Jerome, and AJ to make the arrangements. The funeral home director took us into his office with Joyce and Jerome’s ancient priest. The priest said he couldn’t say a mass for Tonia because she’d killed herself. 

Doesn’t someone who was in so much pain deserve God’s regard? The Catholic Church actually believes they do, and allows a mass to be said for the soul of a suicide victim. But not according to the Father. He’s obviously one of those people who claim god will never give you more than you can handle, despite mountains of evidence that this is pure horseshit.

The phone rang; the director excused himself and quietly answered the phone. He handed the phone to the Father, who then had a 5 minute conversation while the bereaved family sat and listened. He finally hung up and we got back to the sad chore. The phone rang again. It was for the Father again. He spoke for another 5 minutes and hung up. We started again. The Father held up a hand to us and asked the Director to call back the person who he’d just spoken to. He spoke for another few minutes before finally turning his attention back to the neglected bereaved.

Do I disapprove of the Catholic Church? Well, I certainly disapprove of some of its spokespeople.

Joyce was adamant that Tonia’s death was the fault of all of Tonia’s friends who hung out with Tonia and Bell. She didn’t want any of them at the funeral. An announcement was not put in the paper. The grandparents and other extended family did not attend. Tonia’s long-time friends couldn’t attend because they didn’t know when or where the rite was taking place.  A tiny little group of Tonia’s parents, siblings, ex-husbands, and children listened to the Father talk about a woman he didn’t know and hadn’t bothered to ask about. 

AJ and Kelsie were existing in stunned silence. There was nothing anyone could say to comfort them. Tonia had been absent from their lives for a while, but we all thought she’d come back. Doug brought Abbi to the funeral. She was too young to understand what was happening, but she cried because she could feel how upset everyone was. Doug’s eyes were red from crying. Mike’s heart was broken all over again. Bonnie and I didn’t want to leave AJ and Kelsie’s side. 

Tonia was cremated and put to rest in the cemetery’s Babyland, with her daughter Faith. I can’t remember if Larry attended. I know that I did attend the funeral but I couldn’t make myself go to the interment. That would make everything too final. 

Tonia’s ex-mother-in-law, Mike’s mother Mary Ann, was driving somewhere the Sunday night after Tonia’s funeral and drove past Bell’s lounge, which should have been closed and dark on a Sunday, but the lights were on and people were inside. She pulled into the lot and there was a sign on the door. Since Bell and friends had been deprived of attending the funeral, they were having a wake for Tonia. In the bar. Mary Ann was livid. She got out of her car and went in.

Mary Ann told them they had a hell of a lot of nerve, drinking to celebrate Tonia’s life, after Bell had dumped Tonia like garbage after stealing her away from her family and helping her lose her kids. Mary Ann said none of them cared enough about Tonia when she was alive to help her get straight and reunite with her kids; they just partied with Tonia and helped her ruin her life. Mary Ann told them she hoped they would all rot in hell. She let herself out.

Bell refused to give Tonia’s family any of her belongings that were in his house when she died. He did not help settle her estate. He did not help pay for funeral expenses. He moved to Vegas without Tonia, just as he had planned.

Joyce decided Bell murdered Tonia. She said he paid off the police so the autopsy report said suicide instead of murder. She knew because she said Tonia would never have killed herself. And because every night Tonia came and sat down on her bed and talked to her. Tonia told Joyce that Bell killed her. Sean and Amy stopped letting their girls visit Joyce. 

Joyce ran into Ronnie and told him he was Tonia’s one true love and if he hadn’t broken up with her, she’d still be alive. What a thing to lay on someone who hadn’t seen Tonia in a decade or more. Also, Tonia broke up with Ronnie. And if there is such a thing as ‘one true love,’ Tonia’s would have been Mike, Tonia’s husband, who she’d loved as an adult and divorced out of fear and stress. 

Joyce went down to the beautiful home Tonia and Doug had shared that had been neglected for two years and then stood empty for another. Mice had found their way in. Furniture and clothing was ruined. Tonia’s tanning bed was ruined. Joyce gathered up anything that was salvageable and had a garage sale. She took all of Tonia’s pictures and photo albums back to her house. I don’t know what happened to Tonia’s house. Was it repossessed? Sold? Demolished? I don’t know. Another home stands there now. Mike’s garage is gone. 

Nothing is left there to indicate my sister or her family were ever there. AJ stayed with Joyce and Jerome, their adopted parents. Kelsie went back home with Mike. Abbi went back home with Doug. Abbi barely remembers her mother; she was young when Tonia left. Kelsie remembers Tonia and still loves her–of course she does. Kelsie has nothing of Tonia’s. Neither do I, or Abbi, or Mike. Joyce has whatever remains and she won’t share.

I have a few pictures. Lynne threw away all our childhood pictures; Joyce has the rest. Joyce tells everyone AJ is my sister. AJ is not. AJ is my nephew, my sister Tonia’s child. Joyce tried to get me to adopt Kelsie; she said Mike wasn’t capable of taking care of a teenage girl because of his accident. I asked why Joyce didn’t take her; wouldn’t it be better if the siblings were together? No, Joyce couldn’t take Kelsie; she had AJ. 

I asked if Kelsie wanted to come live with me and Joyce said that didn’t matter; Mike couldn’t take care of her. I told Joyce that I would take Kelsie if Kelsie called me and said she wanted to come. But I felt that Kelsie was fine with Mike. She was a teen, not a baby. Mike adored Kelsie, he always has. And Kelsie adores him. When I asked Kelsie about coming to live with me, she said she’d never wanted to do that. She wanted to be with her dad. And living in Minot, she could at least visit her siblings. Living with us would make that hard. So the siblings were split up and Joyce finally had AJ as her own child. Bram and I took Nick and Monica and moved back to South Dakota.

Tonia had finally paid the price for being Joyce’s favorite, and it was steep. It literally cost Tonia her firstborn child. I don’t know what happened to Tonia to send her into that final spiral that she never recovered from. I do know that for most of Tonia’s life, and all of her adult life, Joyce and Tonia had been basically inseparable–Joyce moved her house so she could live a block away from Tonia! 

I want to know what happened that separated them for the last three years of Tonia’s life. I want to know what Tonia did that alienated Joyce. I want to know what Joyce did that drove Tonia away. I will never know. I can’t ever know. 

Because Tonia is gone and Joyce lies.


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