My mom picked me up at four thirty on September 30th, a Thursday. Four Thirty, way earlier than usual. Dressed in blue jeans and sweater, this was not her work attire. Perhaps she just had one of those awful migraines she gets at least once a month. Walking through the burnt orange leaves my mom and I pass the main building, and the middle school building. My mom has not said a word. She hits the “unlock” button twice to enter her Mercury Mountineer. As I sit down to buckle my seatbelt, she parts her lips to speak the unfathomable. “At around one o’clock today, Aunt Jackie died.” Aunt Jackie, my mom’s stepsister was possibly the most angelic person I had ever met. As my mom struggled holding back the tears to speak again a wave of numbness ran through my whole body. “She, she had one of those attacks again. She called 911, and went out to the porch. It was too late she collapsed face first to the ground and died shortly afterward.” I didn’t know what to think. My mother, already small in stature, curled up in a ball on the driver’s side and cried. I couldn’t look at her. I stared.
Like a car wreck that was so horrible that you couldn’t look away. I stared at my mother. For her to cry was so unlike her, for her to sob, life was not real. After 30 seconds of staring, I came back down to reality. She was gone. Our plan to go to the library would never happen. She couldn’t make fun of my mother for how we “organized” our Tub-a-ware anymore. She was gone. I broke down, I hadn’t cried so hard in all my 13 years of life. I grabbed at my jeans, like my mother I had curled into a ball on the passenger’s side of the car. By the time the rage unraveled me from the tight ball I was in, my blouse was half stained with the eruption of anger that poured from my eyes. I could have screamed. My faith in God was tested that day. How could He have let a person who had done so much good in her life, leave life in such a short, random, painful manner. Sarcoidosis had claimed her, took over her body, and took her away in one fatal swoop.
My mom told me she was laying in a coroner’s office. They found her in a pool of blood on her front porch. The time I wanted to scream, let out my anger. I was in a parked car, on Coulter Street. With a completely inconsolable mother, and a face marked red with anger, grief and shock. These were the worst ten minutes I have ever had in my life. This was my first time grieving.
Death was never a fear of mine until I was thirteen years old. The day she died. I never ever wanted to make anyone cry and seeing what death had done to my mother, from this point on I wanted to be immortal. I crunched through the leaves and walked up the two sets of stairs and into the house. Throwing my bag down on the antique couch in my living room, I swiftly ran up the stairs to get to my room. I peeled off my homeroom sweatshirt, kicked off my nikes and sat down on my bed and I cried.
The worst part of grief is from the second of notification leading up to the funeral. No closure, no celebration, just sadness. Nothing feels right, the next couple of days I would sit in the unshakeable feeling of death. I walked through school with fake smiles and conversations that felt unbearably long. I walked into the computer lab the day after she passed, to find my best friend Sarah, who coincidentally was dealing with grief as well. We cried together in the dark computer room that friday morning, until Rhonda, our computer teacher walked into the room. Rhonda then told my advisor and thats how word spread around and I dealt with the pity party for another good week. Grief, grudges with God. I couldn’t understand why my Lord took her away so soon. I could only wait for the funeral to come, and then hell would be over.
I stood there, pain stricken, trying to understand why she was gone. I creeped into the church, slowly, timidly. My eyes wide with fear of what I was about to see. My aunt, adorned in white linens and lace, laid undisturbed, untroubled in a white casket. I walked slowly down the shaggy tan carpeting, passing rows and rows of people.; to look at Jackie for one last time.
She laid there as I stood looking at her, face to corpse, niece to aunt. Now to be honest, for a dead person, she still had color. She didn't have an eerie gray coloring. Perhaps that was the makeup that they put on the deceased to make sure they just look like they are sleeping. They kept her hair short, she usually hid it behind a hair scarf. Her skin was still the color of caramel, except for the swollen parts of her lip from when she had fell onto her patio. Those were stained with the obvious color of concealer and foundation, which when looked at thoroughly, was black, blue and blood red. I began to feel uncomfortable in my own skin.
My lips were locked together by the shear antipathy that this would be my last encounter with my aunt Jackie, for the rest of my life. My MaryJanes carried me back across the old carpet as I promptly took my seat next to my mother, who had been a wreck for a week. And my uncle, who had been a wreck for a day. I felt frigid, numb, and cold to the touch. I felt like I had died, my stomach dropped as I was about to be consumed with grief for the next three and a half hours of my life.
As much as funerals bring closure to loved ones, it is the most uncomfortably painful yet healing part of the grieving process. Looking at my aunt for the last time, felt like saying goodbye to a piece of me. My eyes attempted to avoid her, I didn’t want to come to grips with the fact that she was gone. The funny thing about death is it brings out the sheer delusion in all of us. The night terrors, the visions of her sitting right next to me in school. It is something you can never escape.
For the most part I had blacked out through a majority of the funeral. I didn’t cry, thats all I knew. The expectations for grief is to cry, scream, break something. Let all the pain out in one blow. This was all I saw in the movies. This is what I expected of myself. I never knew I could feel so cold, numb, heartless. The last memory I have from the day of her funeral was lowering her casket into the burial plot. I can honestly say, as painful as that was to watch, the amount of closure I received in those few moments was incredible. I now know that I may not get her back, I won’t ever get her back, but she is wrapped around me in every step I take. In the words of my aunt; “In death the only thing that dies is the body, the shell. The spirit stays around us all for ever, even as we move on to new adventures. Everyday the spirits of our ancestors look down upon us, to guide us through life.” I was freed from grief. Or perhaps grief freed me.