“I plan on being in Cincinnati in September….if you would like to get together and talk.” This brief sentence appeared in an email sent to me by Cheryll’s oldest brother, Mike, (he went by Mickey when he was younger), as we had been exchanging emails back and forth for a month or so prior. I read the words again. Yes! Finally. FINALLY, I thought to myself, feeling my heart beating strongly in my chest. Meeting with Cheryll’s brothers was something I had been wanting to do for two years and now, Mike was asking ME to meet–something that I hadn’t been brave enough to ask him yet. I eagerly replied that I would love the opportunity to finally meet him in person (containing my true excitement so I didn’t come across too strongly) and before long he, along with his brother, Mark, Bridget and I made plans to meet on a late Sunday morning in September.
When the morning arrived, the day was rainy and dreary, and as I drove to pick up Bridget from her house, the low, gray rain clouds were stretched thinly across the sky, swirling in the morning wind. It felt as though there was a struggle overhead– the skies deciding whether to gather those low clouds together and rain more, or to wait for the late summer wind to part the thin clouds and let the sky clear. As Bridget settled into the front passenger seat of my car and I pulled out of her driveway to begin our journey, we made small talk for a few minutes.
Sensing my nervous energy of course, Bridget finally asked: “So, how you feeling?”
“I’m so happy to finally be doing this, but I’m nervous a little too. This means a lot to me and I want it to go well,” I answered, while feeling myself gripping the steering wheel a little more tightly than normal, deciding not to share that I’d been up throughout the night before, anxious about all that might transpire in the coming hours.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” Bridget said. “The fact that they want to meet with us says a lot about them and their commitment to their sister. We’ll just go at it slow and ask them the questions we have and see how it goes.” Her reassurance was helpful and once again I was feeling blessed to have her as my literal and figurative shotgun rider.
As we drove to our destination, occasional raindrops fell against the windshield though the sky appeared to be brightening slightly, still seeming to be deciding whether to rain more or not. Bridget and I talked some more and all the while I was repeating small prayers inside of myself to Cheryll…Help me, Cheryll. Let us all know what to say. Let me ask the right questions. Guide us all, please. I felt an awareness that she was always guiding me and looking over what I was doing, but perhaps she was always doing the same for her brothers, helping us all prepare that day for our much anticipated meeting.
Before long, we arrived to our destination–Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky–so that Mike and Mark could see their sister’s new headstone in person. It was perhaps one of the most important and special trips to a cemetery that I’d ever been a part of, and though I knew the mood would be somber, I also knew it would be special. As we pulled into the cemetery parking lot, we spotted Mike’s vehicle and drove in our respective vehicles to the section of the cemetery where Cheryll was buried. And once we exited our cars, we were all finally able to introduce ourselves and begin talking.
Right away I noticed that Mike was what I expected him to be–well-spoken and kind. He had a full head of hair and a warm smile and immediately had that big-brother sort of disposition that I recognized since I am a big-sister myself. Mark was more quiet and reserved and seemed to be comfortable letting Mike do the talking at first. I could tell that he was slightly unsure about Bridget and me at first–understandably so–probably still wondering what these two women were up to. Sensing that, I think Bridget and I both sought to put him at ease as we talked, and it helped us relax as well.
The brothers stood over and gazed down upon Cheryll’s headstone and Bridget and I stepped back to give them some space. I nudged her and we looked up to the skies, noticing that the earlier sprinkling of rain and gray low-hanging clouds had dissipated, now revealing the sun as it began to poke out from behind the remaining clouds. We smiled at each other, silently acknowledging that this was a good sign. I turned and looked behind me to where Tom was buried on the hillside and grinned a little, again quietly thanking him in my heart for whatever part he played in arranging the moment unfolding before us. Mike and Mark thanked us for getting the headstone and I responded with, “You’re welcome. I was happy to do it.” And I very genuinely meant it and it felt good knowing they truly seemed to appreciate it.
The four of us stared at the headstone for another moment and then Mike asked me the first important question of the day. “What made you want to do all of this?” I felt my brain and my heart overflowing with words and emotions and all of that quickly trying to funnel together, working to come out of my mouth in a coherent way. And then I started talking– explaining about my father-in-law knowing about Cheryll’s case and pointed out that he was buried nearby, and how I grew up in Cold Spring and hadn’t heard about her story, and how Bridget and I were both someone’s sisters and also moms to daughters and we came to care about Cheryll, and how when we started talking to people who knew Cheryll AND them, that Cheryll’s spirit just seemed to take hold of our hearts and our lives…. They listened to Bridget talk about her part in our journey and how we’ve worked so hard on learning all that we can and how we still have more and more questions everyday. There was quiet after we finished talking and I thought, “Oh no, we’ve completely freaked them out.” But they seemed to digest what we were saying, perhaps realizing, though we were slightly hyped about the whole experience, we were also genuine and passionate, and then Mike asked, “Would you ladies like to go have lunch? We can sit and talk some more.”
We readily and eagerly agreed and then walked to and got back into our vehicles to drive down the road to have some lunch at a local restaurant. As we closed the car doors, Bridget and I both let out audible exhales, put on our seatbelts, and began once again slowly driving down the narrow lanes of the cemetery.
Bridget spoke first. “Those poor boys. You can tell they are still carrying so much grief and pain with them all these years later. I don’t know how they’ve managed to do that and still function, especially if they didn’t get any counseling or therapy. All they have is each other.”
I nodded in agreement. “That went so well. I felt like we were able to talk pretty easily even though it’s difficult to talk about. And I don’t think we freaked them out too badly. Hopefully, they’re okay with us asking more questions.”
“I’m sure they will be. They wanted to meet with us so they have to know we’re going to be asking,” Bridget said with a little nod and smile, gearing up to ask and hopefully get answers to some important questions we’ve had.
And soon enough, as we settled into our seats at an outdoor dining table, the sun was shining brightly overhead. It truly felt as though Cheryll was giving us the gift of sunlight and fresh air, all the while saying, Go on…. Work together and keep talking, you all…. Work together and keep talking.