How do you deal with the death of a loved one? For me, an important facet of grieving is closure. This is an account of what I did at the burial of my mother.
We don’t write about such things. The events that move us in the real world are too mundane for that. I step away from the norm to give my account.
I’ve sent the four limos away and stand in my best blue suit and black wool coat, flanked by two strong nephews who asked permission to remain with me at a time when polite society withdraws. It’s January 29th, yet hundreds of stale, wind-blown Christmas wreaths remain staked to the ground in long, precise rows. The wind gusts against our own fresh displays of pink and lavender roses. How they cut such a clean rectangle into the ground, I don’t know.
Calloused hands guide rolls of green nylon strap as the cherry wood casket recedes into the ground. No one speaks. Not one of the yellow roses perched on that burnished lid move and I recall they remained on my father’s coffin eight years back when he died at age 78. My mother is 78 and now she’s dead. Leukemia. Both of them. My dress shoes kick at wet, dirty snow, then I step onto plywood, worn through and ragged, covering the ground at the edge of the grave. I lean forward and stare into the hole, fixing the image in my mind. Permanently.
Men winch a concrete lid onto the vault and I see my mother’s name in gold. The funeral director watches till it’s properly seated, then nods and walks off. The hearse pulls away. A truck backs onto the plywood and pours crushed limestone into the hole. We stare for I don’t know how long till it returns to dump wet clods of earth, filling the hole in less than a minute. A ragged worker. A small bladed shovel smoothing the heap. I scoop loose dirt from the truck bed and deposit it on the pile. This is real dirt—both clay and black soil that sticks to my fingers and palm. He finishes his task. I thank him. I don’t know his name.
Why am I here while a crowd of loved ones wait at a restaurant three miles down the road? I am numb. I need release. I want closure. I am forcing it on myself. While others turn away from their loss, I face it at the cost of sudden pain. Of all the images of death, the crown of dirt that seals that hole is the most potent—more than kissing her brow before they removed the corpse. My mother’s body lies hidden—hidden as if she had never been. Nothing left but the wind.
“If that were really all there was to life, what would be the point?” .I say. My nephews both agree. The Truth is stark and obvious as we stand there, numb and humble. She no longer has use of her husk or her human pain. She’s in the presence of the Lord.
As the car approaches, I’m thankful the driver stayed so long. We leave more than a thousand dollars of flowers at that gravesite and step around an icy puddle, into the black interior and my tears finally come as we glide to the place of good company, food and comfort.
Self portrait by John Jonelis.
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