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Why Did You Leave Me
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By Martha C. Shively
Penny was bursting with energy and excitement. Thanksgiving holidays were coming. At the end of school she told her teacher, in her bubbly voice, "I'm going to spend Thanksgiving with my uncle. I can't wait for it to get here!"
Penny exploded into the house with her mousy brown hair flying behind her. She came to an abrupt halt when mother said, "Penny, quit running through the house."
No sooner had her mother spoken when the phone rang. Mother answered it and Penny didn't think anything of it until her mom dropped the phone and started crying. Penny had never seen her mom cry before and she felt scared. What's happened? Why's she crying? Penny wondered. Penny and her two brothers, Jeff and Paul, wanted to know what was going on, but all their mom would say is "No, it can't be."
Their father picked up the phone and talked a while. After he hung up he took Penny and her brothers to another room and said, "Your Uncle Andy has died."
All three of them were silent. Then Jeff asked, "How did he die?"
Dad replied, "He had a heart attack."
Penny hurried to her bedroom and flung herself on the bed. She laid with fists balled up, as if she wanted to hit someone. "I'm not a baby so I won't cry. I won't, I WON'T!!" she exclaimed through clenched teeth.
Penny thought out loud "He's had heart attacks before and lived, why not this time?" She rolled over and punched her favorite teddy bear. Penny knew that her mother was hurting because she was too. Looking at the bear she said, "You've got to help me. I can't let mother know how I feel. She needs my strength and if she thought I was hurting she would just die. You've got to help me!" Penny went to bed and slept fitfully. She woke often and told herself she wouldn't cry, she can't cry.
At school the next day, Penny's teacher, Mrs. Smith, asked, "What's wrong, you look upset?" Penny gave her the note that had been written. When Mrs. Smith had finished reading it she gave Penny a hug and said "He's in a better place now, and he's out of pain, so there's no need to be upset."
How could he be in a better place, Penny thought, though she never said it out loud? He left us and won't be back. What place can be better when there's no family around? Penny knew what death was but she didn't understand it, or why it happened.
During the chapel service, the following day, one of Penny's younger cousins left the room in a hurry and an older cousin asked, "Penny, would you see if Kim is alright?"
Penny replied quietly "Okay" and on the way out she couldn't help but wonder, why doesn’t anyone ask if I was okay? Don't they think I might be hurting too? I won't cry. I won't! She went to her younger cousin and held her until the tears were gone.
"Why did he leave us, Penny? When's he coming back?" Kim asked.
"I don't know, Kim, why he’s gone, but he's never ever coming back. He's in heaven now. Go wash your face now; the others are coming."
After the services everyone went to Uncle Andy's house. People from the church had brought all different kinds of food. Penny felt lost and confused with all those different people faces there. Everyone was eating, and laughing, and seemed to be happy. Penny looked from one adult to another, and mumbled to herself, ‘How can they be smiling? Don't they miss Uncle Andy? Don't they love him anymore? Uncle Andy isn't even here and they're acting as if nothing happened. I wish they'd all just go away.’
She walked around the house just looking at different things. as if trying to change what has happened. Penny went into Uncle Andy's bedroom in order to get away from all the laughter and noise. She entered the room, and looked around. When she spied his picture she went over and picked it up. "Why did you leave? Everyone is having fun and not missing you. I wish you'd come back and make them all go away." She wiped at the tears falling down her cheeks. "What did I do to make you leave? I wish you'd come back and talk to me. I love you, and I don't want you to go away. I won't cry. I'm not supposed to cry. Only babies and selfish people cry, and I'm not either."
After a little while Penny replaced the picture and left the room. She went to the living room and sat on the couch very gently. No one seemed to notice that she was so quiet. No one seemed to notice her at all. Penny thought to herself, ‘no one even knows I'm here. I wonder if I can go to Uncle Andy, but maybe he doesn't want me either. Maybe that's why he left me.’
One lady, whom Penny had never met, came to talk to her. The lady spoke calmly, "Hello, I'm Donna. Would you like to get a hamburger and talk?"
Penny nodded. She thought Donna was nice and didn't seem put out because Penny was upset. They didn't tell anyone where they were going. Penny gave directions to the ice cream place that Uncle Andy always took her to.
She sat on the hard, wooden bench straight like a board. Her hands were cupped around a big mug of hot chocolate, and her legs dangled from the edge of the seat. A cold wind moved through the screened window and stirred her shoulder length mousy brown hair. A few tears stained her rosy red cheeks.
It was a very nasty and cold afternoon in November. The ice cream parlor was not very crowded, even though suppertime was fast approaching.
While they were drinking their hot drinks, Donna asked, "How are you doing?
"What do you mean?" Penny asked.
"I noticed you didn't talk much at the house, and you also disappeared for a while" Donna replied.
"Oh, I didn't think anyone saw me. They were all having fun and I just wanted to get away and be by myself for a little while," Penny said. "I didn't want anyone to see how I was feeling. Kids aren't supposed to have feelings you know."
"Who told you that kids weren't supposed to have feelings?" Donna inquired.
"My mom and ..., and just everybody," muttered the straight backed Penny, in an angry and hurt voice "they say don't cry you'll see him in Heaven one day. They also say he's better off and out of pain. But that only makes me hurt more inside. Uncle Andy was my best friend. Why did he have to leave, Donna, just when I needed to talk to him about junior high? More tears rolled from her chocolate brown eyes and landed on the table. Quickly she swiped away the tears.
"It's okay to cry, especially when you love someone that's gone." Donna said softly and she placed her hands on top of Penny's.
But Penny pulled away. Jutting her chin defiantly and folding her arms, "If I cry then it means I'm a sissy and I'm being selfish." she shot back.
"Who told you that, Penny?" Donna looked shocked.
"My brother, Jeff, Uncle Joe, and Uncle John, and besides Uncle Andy was my mother's brother and only my uncle." Penny said in a hurt voice. She sipped her hot chocolate. Penny swallowed hard and stared out the window as if not seeing anything.
Donna asked, "What are you feeling?"
Penny sighed and continued to stare outside. "I feel betrayed and alone. I thought we were friends. When he was here I always knew I had at least one friend, now I have no one." Then Penny looked at Donna, "Why, Donna? Why'd he have to die? What did I do to make him leave me?" She took a shuddering breath and continued "Donna, they put him in the ground and covered him with dirt, now I'll never be able to talk to him again."
Penny dropped her head to the table and let out a small sound like that of a wounded animal. Donna moved around the table to her. Penny wrapped her arms around Donna's neck and cried hard. Through her tears she said, "I loved him but he didn't love me ..."
Donna interrupted Penny and asked, "What make's you think he didn't love you?"
Drying her tears she replied in a small voice, "Because he left me and didn't even say good-by. He used to listen to me and help me with my problems. He made me feel special. No one else cared if I had a problem or wasn't happy, only Uncle Andy and now he's left me too. Why? That’s what I want to know? Can you tell me why he left me?!"
Penny then went silent and looked out the window again. She looked as if she were lost in thought.
After a while Donna said, "Penny, I know you're hurting and you're angry but, you know ... Andy didn't have a choice about leaving."
Penny looked up and a puzzled look spread across her face. "What do you mean he didn't have a choice?"
"Well Penny, Andy had been here a long time and he was very sick. Then the other day Jesus looked down from heaven and said 'He's been a good servant and he's helped lots of people, now he needs help that only I can give.' Then he told Andy's heart not to start again 'cause he was going home to live with him. You see God choose that time to take Andy home and he had no choice but to obey because he loved God. Andy didn't leave because of what you or I did or didn't do, but because God said "It's time to come home Andy, you've done a good job and you've earned a rest. Now do you understand why he left?"
"Yes, but I still miss him and it still hurts knowing he's gone and I'll never see him again." Penny answered, trying to hide her tears.
Donna gathered Penny up in her arms again and said "I know it hurts and I know you miss him because I miss him too, but as long as you remember the good and bad times you had, and that he's living with Jesus, the hurting will pass and you won't miss him so much. He will also be there when Jesus says that it's your time to come home. And you know what else will help?" Donna paused.
Penny looked up at her and asked "What?"
"Crying will help. It'll wash away the pain. Why even Jesus cried when his friend Lazarus died, so crying for a loved one doesn't mean you’re a sissy or that you’re selfish. It just means you cared deeply for and loved that person."
Then Penny started crying again. Many people came in and out of the ice cream place but they never stopped Penny from crying.
After a while, Penny stopped by herself. Then Donna asked, "Do you feel some better now?" Penny nodded, and then asked to be excused to go to the bathroom. When she came out Donna asked "Are you ready to head home now?"
"Yes" Penny answered.
"Okay, and just remember it's okay to cry when you get hurt or someone dies. And if anyone else dies that you know; remember they didn't do so just to hurt you."
As Penny and Donna left, Penny asked, "How come you're the only one who knew I felt bad?"
Donna thought about when she was 11 and then said "I guess it's because I once lost someone very close to me when I was your age and I knew how I felt then. So I just watched everyone to see who might be having a hard time with Andy's death, and I thought I might be able to help then I noticed you. It took me a long time to get over my loved one's death, because no one explained it to me. I hope you will remember what I've told you, how I knew what you were feeling, and then maybe you can help someone else some day."
When they got back to the house, Penny didn't feel angry with all the people there, because she now had a secret that she would share with other people that were affected by the death of a loved one.
© FEBRUARY 12, 1989