I woke that morning to a brilliant sunshine, and it was much like the mornings I remember waking in her house as a child. However, this morning wasn’t like those remembered mornings and I had no desire to get up and face the day. On the other hand, the honour to preserve memory and to express goodbyes was stronger than the urge to deny letting go, and it was the recollection of her strength in similar moments that helped me from my bed.
I braced the window frame after throwing it open, the crisp air was a sharp contrast to the illusion of warmth from the sun. The deposit of tiny ice crystals on the ground marked the change in season, and the irony of nature’s cycles mirroring our lives was not lost on me. Fall is a time for letting go, and often I have purged and relinquished during this season that marks ends as well as beginnings. As the almost leafless branches of the trees came into focus behind my tear filled eyes I began to appreciate the transitory nature of all life and a calmness came over me blanketed with the knowledge that I cherished my relationship with her. I used the power of that realization to support me through the morning.
* * *
The inside of the church was cavernous. My throat felt tight and an emotional tension hummed through my body. We’d arrive early to say goodbye privately before the other mourners. I’d prepared for this moment yesterday when we’d come to walk through the service with the Minster, just the three of us, but the space had felt empty and the reality of death unreal. Today though the space was different because it was adorned with memory boards and seating arranged for mourners.
The walk to the front felt long. My feet dragged on the carpet as my eyes avoided the pine and silk casket. Instead I focused on the flowers and photos flanking it. I stopped at the frontline of seating, I felt unable to cross the last fifteen feet to the casket’s side. I could see her from where I stood. She was laying peaceful and looking like a hollow version of herself. My breath stopped as a volcano of emotion welled up causing my vision to blur. A pressure built in my eye sockets and burst forth in a wave of heat that burned down my cheeks. Dad’s hand grasped my elbow and we moved forward together.
Fifteen feet spanned an ocean, but when I washed up beside her casket and reached out to place my hand on top of hers I’d found my strength. I ducked my head briefly before I spoke to her in hushed tones. She listened in silence, but I believe she heard. Before I turned away I reached into my pocket, the hidden drawer on the casket stood open and inside I placed a shining thimble and threaded needle. My voice caught as I choked back another wave of emotion while I gave my final leave-taking, “Have fun sewing angel wings in heaven!”
Mourners had started to arrive. Although we’d spent the last few days alone planning the service and taking care of things left undone in the wake of death I knew the family would come. Their absence in the difficult days preceding today had been a source of confusion and extra sadness. I questioned what today would bring?
Mourner after mourner we exchanged words of sympathy and hugs of condolence. Then I saw my Aunt across the room. It had been years since I’d been home, but I wanted to share grief with her. As I approached she turned sensing that someone was behind her. I watched as recognition gleamed in her dull brown eyes, and a smirk momentarily pulled the corners of her mouth before disappearing from her weathered face. She arched her lower back pulling her upper body away from where I was standing. Her face took on a demonic form casting her features as unrecognizable. Her eyes grew wide then pulled tight at the corners, squinty, and her cheeks pulled tight from the effort of opening her mouth so wide. Her black hair stood on end jiggling like Medusa’s snakes as she yelled to draw as much attention to herself as possible. Her voice came out in childish wails, “I’m visiting here! I’m visiting here!”
I stood rooted to the spot watching her performance. A wash of heat rocketed through my veins, and my body tensed in readiness in case she brought her performance to a physical level. The casket stood open fifteen feet behind her, a solid quiet structure. At this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if my deceased grandmother sat up and fixed this scene with a look of disgust.
The heat in my veins started to cool as I realized my role here, so I waited. When her mouth closed a light danced in her eyes in a sureness that she had provoked a fight, an opening to become not only a griever but a victim as well. At twenty plus years my senior I could feel nothing but sadness for her. I fixed her eyes with mine and leveled my voice in a simple statement, “It’s like that is it!” I turned my back to her leaving her nowhere else to go without making it apparent that she wanted a scene.
Briefly I wished I could have seen her face as I shut her down, but that was my attempt to distract myself from the pain she’d caused in me. I stuffed it down inside me to look at later, and I continued to fill my role as an adult giving and receiving comfort with a number of people sharing true grief. I was aware that she never approached the casket, she never went to say goodbye to her mother. She flitted about the room giggling and making inappropriate comments. By the service’s end and her loud proclamation that she wouldn’t accompany the service to the cemetery I was no longer bothered by her outburst.
Lost in her own selfishness and greed she had never had a relationship with the woman we had lost, she had never known the moments of bonding. She blamed me for the choices she made, but that wasn’t mine to carry. Instead, I straightened my spine and conveyed myself the way the deceased would have wanted me to. I acted in a manner that had always made her proud.
* * *
A cool breeze brushed the tears on my cheeks as I laid a bright orange carnation on her casket. As I whispered the words “I love you” it seemed as if the cool winds carried it on their currents like a soft sigh. With a sense of serenity I turned and walked away from her plot.
By Shari Marshall – 2017