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Episode 229...

~ Ali ~

Nick reaches for my hand and gives it a squeeze as we walk into the old church. I can’t believe I’m here to say goodbye to Jay. He was the one person I could always rely on to never say goodbye. I look at Tony and Mary and my heart tightens. I can’t even begin to imagine how they are feeling. And Jade… I sit down on the old wooden pew and wonder if any of us will ever get over losing Jay like this.

~ Jade ~

At the doors of the old church I stare ahead of me at the mahogany coffin which is supposed to hold my brother. I can’t believe he’s in there. It just looks too small to hold everything that he was. How could that box even hope to hold his smile, the way he laughed, the way he called me pookie, the big hugs he gave, his strength, his intelligence, his soul… It can’t hold any of those things. I look up at the skies above and I think I finally understand. All those things are above me, around me, within me… I can’t lose him. The coffin bearers start to move slowly inside the church as Sarah McLachlan’s voice soars above us all.

Hold on
Hold on to yourself
For this is gonna hurt like hell
Hold on
Hold on to yourself
You know that only time can tell
What is it in me that refuses to believe
This isn't easier than the real thing.

My love
You know that you were my best friend.
You know that I'd do anything for you
And my love
Let nothing come between us
My love for you is strong and true.

Am I in heaven here or
Am I...
At the crossroads I am standing.

So now you're sleeping peaceful
I lie awake and pray
That you'll be strong tomorrow
And will see another day
And we will praise it
And love the light that brings a smile
Across your face.

Oh God
If you're out there won't you hear me?
I know we've never talked before
And oh God
The man I love is leaving
Won't you take him when he comes to your door?

Am I in heaven here or
Am I in hell
At the crossroads I am standing.

So now you're sleeping peaceful
I lie awake and pray
That you'll be strong tomorrow
And we will see another day
And we will praise it
And love the light that brings a smile
Across your face

Hold on
Hold on to yourself
For this is gonna hurt like hell.

My parents follow the coffin to the front of the church and take the first pew. Brian and I sit behind them. Behind us are Ali, AJ and Nick and the rest of my family. Then there are a lot of Jay’s friends and colleagues, and the other two Backstreet Boys are near the back. The little church is full. The vicar stands up and welcomes us. He’s a great guy, he’s known my family for over twenty years now. We sing a few of Jay’s favourite songs and then its time for the memorials. This is the part I’m dreading. I had been asked to say a few words by my parents who didn’t feel they could do it themselves. I’m not so sure I can do it myself but I’m going to try. For Jay.
“Jay’s sister Jade would like to say a few words about her brother.”
That’s my cue and I stand up, walking up to stand by the coffin. I kiss my fingers and touch the coffin plate on which his name is inscribed. I take a deep breath and look out at the hushed church.
“First, I’d like to thank you all for being here with us today to celebrate Jay’s life. I know he would have been very honoured that so many people thought so much of him. Thank you. I really don’t know what I can say about Jay that you don’t already know. And I know he would have hated seeing everybody he cared about so upset and in mourning for him. He would’ve wanted a big party and for us to remember him with a big smile. But when somebody you love so much dies, it’s hard to do that straightaway… But I know he’ll be hangin’ about in heaven watching over us all and makin’ sure that we only smile and laugh when remembering him, and never cry… He was my big brother and…” I start to get a little choked up and my tears start falling again. I bow my head and carry on speaking. “Was always a major part of my life. And he will always be a part. He taught me a lot of who I am today and… I don’t know what I’m going to do without him… I can’t pretend that I understand why he had to die or that I’ve accepted it but…” I totally break down now and I can hardly speak through my tears.
Suddenly a strong arm winds itself around my waist, holding me to him and I hear Brian’s clear voice fill the church.
“Jay was an amazing person. The best. And I wish I could have had the chance to get to know him a lot better, but what I did know of him was that he was a great guy who took pride in his job, who loved his family a lot, and who was a fiercely loyal friend to all who needed him. Truly somebody to be proud of. When I met Jay here in Atlanta, we went fishing behind his family house. We didn’t catch anything but we got the chance to talk to each other and I really feel that I gained a brother that day. One of the things Jay told me was how much he loved this hymn and I want to sing it for him…” Brian takes a deep breath and starts to sing, his beautiful clear voice filling the church effortlessly. His arm around my waist is steady.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me…

I look up to see the tears rolling slowly down Brian’s face. He takes a deep breath to continue the hymn as AJ stands up. I see him pick up a hymn sheet and walk down to stand beside Brian. He is quickly joined by the other three Boys and together they strengthen Brian’s voice.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me…

Brian joins me and my mom in the kitchen. We’re unwrapping a plate of sandwiches for our guests. Most people from the church came back to our place for a meal. Brian leans against the counter opposite us.
“If one more person tells me they’re shocked I can sing, I won’t be responsible for my actions,” he jokes.
“Aw, are they all shocked?” I smile.
“Yup. They seem to think bein’ in a band means I can’t sing.”
My mom laughs and reaches out to touch Brian’s arm. “Well, you certainly proved them wrong. And thank you for singing. I know Jay would have loved it. Abide With Me was the first hymn he ever learnt. I remember he had to learn it off by heart for a recital and he always used to complain afterwards that he just couldn’t forget it,” she laughs quietly. “I used to catch him humming it sometimes…” She smiles and picks up a plate. “I’ll take these through to the hungry masses.” She disappears through the door and we look at each other.
“Thank you. For singing and for saving me.”
“I couldn’t watch you up there all alone…” He stands up straight, “And I meant every word that I said.”
“I know you did,” I smile. “And I think Jay would be pretty flattered.”
“I hope so.”

~ Ali ~

“Anybody seen Jade?” I ask the four guys around me and they all shake their heads.
“It was a real beautiful service,” says Kevin as Jade’s mom joins us.
“Yes it was,” she smiles. “Jay would be very honoured. And thank you so much for singing that hymn with Brian. It was always a favourite of Jay’s.”
“It was our pleasure,” smiles Howie. “It was sung at my sister’s funeral too.”
“And my dad’s,” adds Kevin and Mary looks at them both.
“You’ve lost loved ones too?”
“Yes,” Howie says. “My sister Caroline died three years ago. She had lupus.”
“Oh I’m sorry,” Mary says touching his arm gently.
“And I lost my dad to cancer when I was nineteen,” says Kevin and Mary reaches out to squeeze his hand.
“I’m sorry Kevin. Today must have been hard for you both.”
Tony joins them. “Hello. Ali,” he hugs me quickly. “How are you doin’?”
“I’m ok. You?”
“Ah, y’know,” he shrugs and then smiles. “It’s good to see you Ali.”
“You too Tony. I just wish Jay was here.”
“I know,” he says and I reach for his hand. He smiles at me and gives my hand a squeeze. I had lived with Jade’s family for one summer during college and had grown so close to all of them. Trust Jade to have great parents. They don’t deserve this. Nobody does.