I'm All Done Here
I had never been to a funeral before. This was my first and never, even in my darkest of nightmares, had I ever imagined I would be attending this one. My eyes were dry, my head was dizzy, and my body felt like it weighed 300 pounds. The Oklahoma sun was hot as it shone down on my black dress, but I hardly noticed. My friends and family surrounded me on all sides but they may as well have been miles away because I had never felt so alone.
I watched helplessly as they lowered my mother's casket into the ground. It seemed to take an eternity but then it was my father's turn and time stopped completely. I stared down at the two caskets lying side by side in the red dirt. They were together, as in buried in the same grave, but there would always be that small distance that separated them, the wood of their caskets, the earth in between. What if they got lonely? What if they wanted or needed each other? They couldn’t hold hands or talk if they were lying in different boxes. But what did that matter? They were dead and gone, no longer living.
It was hard for me to separate their physical bodies from their souls as I had never been a very spiritual person. My Aunt Candice told me to think about them up in heaven, happy and together, smiling down on me. But I didn’t think they would be smiling right now, not as they watched their only daughter suffer through her grief. They would want to hold me and comfort me - it would be torturous for them to see me like this.
As they started to cover my parents with dirt, I felt a pain in my chest like nothing I had ever felt before. The surprising touch of a soft hand on my shoulder jump started my heart and I gasped for air, realizing that I had been holding my breath.
"Ryan, sweetie, let's go back to the house," I heard my aunt's calming voice but I couldn’t look at her. I couldn’t look away.
"No." I shook my head. "I need to watch."
Two hands on my shoulders attempted to guide me away but I shrugged them off and stood my ground.
"It's over, honey. Let's go," she urged but I wouldn't budge.
"If I don't see it then I may never believe that it's really happened," I whispered, tears starting to fall from my eyes.
I heard her sigh and she tried to sniff back some tears of her own, but her hands fell from my shoulders and she stood by my side, the two of us watching as the old man with a shovel and faded overalls piled the dirt back into the grave. Each thud of earth falling onto their coffins seemed to get louder and louder until I was ready to scream at it to stop.
"It's not always going to be this hard, you know?" Aunt Candice told me after a while.
"I know," I responded, the world going quiet again.
Aunt Candice took my hand and our fingers intertwined but we didn't speak another word. The sun was setting by the time the old man had finished his work. The crickets were humming and the fireflies were dancing around our heads, the entire universe was carrying on as if nothing had happened, but my aunt and I hadn't moved. "I'm all done here," the man said, tipping his hat to us as he picked up his shovel and limped off toward his truck.
"Thank you," I called after him as he started to walk away. It seemed like the right thing to say. He had done a good job, had given my parents a nice final resting place. He looked like he had been at this job for a long time, perhaps most of his life. I couldn't help but wonder if he ever found it depressing. I'm sure he must have. He was forced to see funeral after funeral, crying wives, orphaned children, desperate fathers all burying their loved ones. But funerals like these, where family and friends come out by the dozens to pay their last respects, couldn't be as upsetting as those that drew no spectators. I hoped the old man had people who would go to his funeral. I hoped he wasn’t lonely.
"Do you need more time?" Aunt Candice asked, dropping my hand so she could open her purse and hide her handkerchief.
I looked one last time at the headstone. Charlotte and Samuel Antoinette. Loving parents, devoted wife and husband. Not much could fit on a slab of granite.
"No. I'm all done here." I finally looked at my aunt and tried to smile. "Thank you for staying with me."
She smiled back and put her arm around my shoulder. "We just need to make it through today," she said. "Tomorrow will be a new reality."
I blinked my eyes and let her lead me to the black limousine that would carry us back to my parent's house. Aunt Candice had always been the dreamer of the family but her statement struck a chord in my young, pragmatic mind. It seemed unfair that I was to be thrown into a new life. I didn't want it, I didn't ask for it, yet I was forced to live in it. There's no preparing oneself for that kind of experience. I was determined to just roll with the punches until my world made sense again, until then I just chose to believe that nothing was my control. I knew I could have forced a more positive outlook on things, but right then I just didn't have the strength. Aunt Candice claimed that's what she was there for, to keep me on track, to keep me from drowning. I didn't ask what I might be drowning in because I was scared she would give me some cliché answer like grief or self doubt. She probably assumed I was going to start questioning the meaning of life. Well that was entirely possible, but I doubted I would dwell on it long enough to find the answer or even come close.
I slumped into the air conditioned car and chill bumps spread across my arms and legs. My aunt gracefully climbed in behind me and sat with her hands folded in her lap. We didn't look at each other, both of us staring out our respective windows, thinking about the night ahead. All of those people filing into my parent's house, eating off their china, sitting on their sofas, walking across their lawn. My parents would never get to do any of those things anymore, and before long, I wouldn't either. My last days at home shouldn't be spent like this, mourning and packing my entire life into boxes. But what choice did I have? Like I said, all I could do is roll with the punches, float along, do what the adults tell me to do because, after all, they know best. The driver slowly pulled away and the cemetery faded into the background as we rolled slowly down the flat road back to the city.