Onward We Travel

     We are all packed tightly into the sedan, myself, my grandmother, my mom, and my brother. It’s the cliche movie scene with the depressed girl looking out the car window as the rain pours down out of the threatening skies. We are all silent. It’s been a tough couple of years, and although we all knew this time would come sooner or later, there is no doubt that it is still a sad event. I’ve never been to a funeral before, and I’m not quite sure what to expect. I seem to be the only one having a tough time handling the situation, but we are all Irish, what did I expect? My mom pulls the car into the last space available next to the funeral home. Here we go, I think to myself. All four doors of the car swing open simultaneously and each of us shuffle around awkwardly trying to avoid the rain while opening our umbrellas. I glance up to see my aunt, uncle, and cousin already walking up the steps into the funeral home. Without surprise they are the first ones there, and without surprise they fail to acknowledge any of us. I take my time unnecessarily adjusting my outfit and fiddling with my umbrella so I can let my family walk ahead of me. I’m not trying to lead the way for this event. I walk as slowly as I can without looking odd, even trailing behind my grandmother.

We each walk up the three cement steps in a single file line. My brother Matt has his hands shoved so far into his pockets that I am positive he has to be tearing the seam, his typical action when he feels uncomfortable. My mom has kept it together thus far, but I can see it in her eyes that she will have her moment eventually. My grandma is the closest to her normal self, just slightly less enthusiastic than normal. She accepts everyone’s condolences with a faint smile and a genuine “thank you” followed by the person’s name. We all enter the building and huddle closely in the threshold.The inside is well decorated, and looks like a very liveable home. It is well furnished with several couches and chairs all around, some antique, and some a feeble attempt to look antique.

Upon entering, the owner of the funeral home greets us immediately, broadcasting an overly happy smile for such a somber occasion. I can’t help but think of Holden Caulfield. But, Grandma knows the man and he seems to make her feel comfortable so I will be on my best behavior. We finish greeting the man in the doorway and begin to proceed toward the room with the casket in it. It is immediately apparent that the love we have for our grandfather, our father, and our husband is strong enough to mend the estranged relationship my aunt and uncle and their son have had with the rest of the family. It’s been about three years since they have been to a family gathering of any kind, but we greet them with a cheery smile, hugging and giggling as though everything is wonderful. My uncle points me to the signature book to sign my name. I am the fourth one on the list, just below my cousins name written in perfect cursive. I keep my eyes low and unfocused, terrified to see what is inside the room before me. “Will the casket be open? What’s the protocol at these things anyway?” I think to myself. I put my back toward the room as I wait for the rest of my family to sign their names. My heart begins to race as my brother, the last one left to sign his name, finishes up the h-a-m in our last name. My mom recognizes that we are all done and asks, “Well, shall we go in now?”

My grandma goes in first, as it is her husband that has passed, and my mom follows as it is her father. My aunt, uncle, and cousin who have already paid their visits as we were signing our names, wait just inside the doorway of the room. I follow after my mom. It is clear that I can no longer stare at the hunter green carpet so I raise my eyes. Grandpa is right there. It looks as though he had just dozed off in his recliner as he had so many times before. His white hair is parted on the left side and combed across his head perfectly just as it was every time I saw him. His lips are pursed, almost with a gentle smile, or perhaps I’m just imagining that. He has a tuxedo on and looks quite dapper, I must say.  He looks peaceful. There is one guard on either side of his casket. They are there to honor him for his service in the military years ago. They stand entirely still which amazes me. I cannot even appreciate the beautiful bouquets surrounding his casket because I still can’t comprehend how he can be so close but yet so completely gone from our world. I am sobbing. I can not remember for the life of me the last time I have cried this hard, if ever. I try to keep silent but I think I am wailing. I can no longer see where I am supposed to be walking, I’m just headed in what I think is the proper direction. Suddenly, I am cradled in someone’s warm embrace and they are guiding me to the area where I will kneel and say a prayer for grandpa. It is my aunt that guides me to the side of the casket and then allows me to have a moment to myself. I bow my head and say a prayer for grandpa. Tears stream down my face and drop onto the ground below me. My brother puts his hand on my back, a rare display of affection in our family. We rise together and head toward the front of the room where there is a slideshow playing a stream of memorable pictures from my grandfathers life.

I start my counting ritual to try and stop myself from crying. I count the number of flower bouquets, the amount of chairs in the room, and the number of window panes on the french doors we walked through. I sit myself right next to the tissue box on the desk where a photo album lays. I blow my nose and then dab at my eyes. Thank God I didn’t put mascara on my bottom lashes today, I think to myself. I sit in the chair for a few more minutes, fiddling with my Alex and Ani bracelets as more and more people file in and pay their respects. I rise from my seat, facing the realization that I can’t sit in the same spot without socializing for the next four hours. I move over to where the slideshow is playing and begin to watch the pictures of my grandfather sky-diving on his 75th birthday, fire-fighting, and loving his family go by. The picture of him holding me as a child comes up and I have to restart my counting to hold back the tears. How is everyone else handling this so well? I watch the slideshow cycle through two or three times before going to socialize. I start with my younger cousins, the easiest to talk to. We chat for a while before my great aunt comes over and says hello to me, along with a few other people I haven’t seen in a while, or don’t remember entirely.

An hour or so passes and I find myself talking college with my cousins girlfriend. The mourning is over and it feels as though the mood in the room is happy now. We are no longer sad about David O’Malley passing, but more excited to celebrate the wonderful life he did live. We all gather to share our favorite memories and our favorite traits about Dave. We all agree he would’ve hated how elaborate this celebration we were holding for him is, but we also agree that he most definitely deserved it. It is how you choose to view things in life that will dictate how you feel most of the time. There is a time to mourn and then a time to wake up and rise from the depths happily.