Death is so mundane.
So not what you’d expect.
It happened on a hot August afternoon, in a hospital room that felt stuffy even though both the window and the door were open. My Mom was running in and out of the room. Sometimes she looked at us with tears in her eyes and she slightly shook her head.
It made me realize the inevitable was closing in on us. It was frightening, mind-numbing, but it wasn’t surprising. Lung cancer is not exactly the disease that makes the end seem like it came out of the blue.
When you hear about the passing of a loved one, your heart fills with sadness. You think about the good times, your fondest memories, the quirks that made that person unique in some way. You imagine what it will be like without them. You cry. You’re being hard on yourself, coming up with all those elaborate plans which, if you could carry them out, would magically repair your relationship or help avoiding The Reaper for just a little bit longer.
The Reaper. I think only my sister and I could laugh about that. There is something ridiculous in the notion of it. Mom has always been terrified by the idea of death, be it personified or in its devastating reality. Our little brother is very much under her influence, so he also fears the end very much. But now he has to learn to cope with it. To cope with life.
Because death is life.
Well, at least part of it. It’s pretty weird since you’d think those two are opposites. Interesting how your perspective can change in a matter of minutes. Seconds, really.
If there’s a death, there’ll be a funeral, you’d think. Well, you’re entirely right, but in that case you’ve been lucky enough not to be in charge of taking care of things. The paperwork. Talking to various people, running errands. Getting the belongings of the deceased. Giving back the things that accidentally got mixed up with their stuff. Making phone calls, letting everybody know. Paying. For a lot of things. Then comes the funeral.
For us it came two weeks later. My Mom wanted an open-casket funeral, but fortunately, my Dad said no. He didn’t say much these past few weeks, letting Mom deal with her sorrow in her own way: taking care of everything, being busy as a bee. For him the flowers, the decoration, the color and type of the casket and all the other things were not so important, but with a stern voice he said he knows his daughter wouldn’t have wanted to be stared at by strangers. Mom had to let it go.
And when my Dad said ‘strangers’, he was so right. There were a bunch of people we didn’t know. I mean, I’m sure my Mom or Dad had some vague idea who they might be, but we, the kids didn’t have the faintest. I guess, it didn’t matter that much, because even though it’s the worst for the family, funerals are about all the people who want to say goodbye. And if you, a family member, happen to want a quiet, peaceful service… well, then you’re out of luck. Especially, if your Mom acts like this is the most important thing in the world. I don’t even dare thinking about how she would organize a wedding. She didn’t have the chance to help my sister, since she had hers in Italy, with that idiot of an Italian husband of hers.
Oh, my sister. The center of the universe. When she entered the funeral home, all eyes were on her. She gave her little show of “The Mourning Sister Returns from Italy”. Extravagant, not-at-all-appropriate black dress, crocodile tears, slightly messed up makeup. I really had to fight the urge to roll my eyes when she came to meet us.
Of course, Mom didn’t notice a thing. For her that was the appropriate behavior. The only reason my Dad and little brother didn’t have to be in tears was their gender. A man should be solemn, his pain visible, but not too much. No tears, those are a sign of weakness, and a man should never seem weak.
After a few minutes of crying and feeling sorry for herself, my sister called my Mom aside. I didn’t want to eavesdrop, but she spoke loud enough for me to understand what she said. She asked if she could have some money, since now there probably won’t be any need for that…
Everybody, meet my big sister. She always has her priorities in order. She was probably talking about the college fund. My parents saved money for all their kids so that we could get a college degree even if something happens to them and they cannot support us anymore. My sister didn’t spend hers on studying, of course. She spent it on traveling in Europe, during which she met her husband, whom she now wanted to divorce because she met a French guy. Ugh. I’d probably shoot myself in the head if I had to live her soap opera of a life.
I couldn’t take any more of my sister’s act, so I wandered over to the entrance of the funeral home. People were already gathering on the gravel-covered walkway, chatting softly. You’d think they talk about the deceased, and even though some of them were, the majority conversed about regular stuff: what they were going to do after the funeral, whether they should eat out tomorrow, how this or that person was dressed, and, of course, which relative seems to be the most devastated. Like you can decide these things based on looks.
This was my first funeral ever, so I didn’t really know what was customary, but I grew more and more irritated by these people and their superficial behavior. I remember thinking how the whole thing was just another kick for my family already lying on the ground. At least this is what it felt like to me. I’m sure to my Mom it was comforting or something.
When I went back in I heard Mom reprimanding my little brother. Apparently, he was not behaving as he was supposed to. Had he run from one side of the room to the other? Had he not looked sad enough? I don’t know but I wasn’t particularly interested in what nonsense she came up with this time. Like it’s not hard enough losing a sibling at the age of eleven. He’s still just a kid. I’m sure whatever he had done was not a big deal.
The service was nice. The priest talked about all those religious things I never really cared about, but I knew my parents appreciated when he asked forgiveness and mentioned heaven and the like. It was nice, anyway. He had a deep, earnest voice, his pace was slow, but not too slow. I liked his clothes too; instead of the usual black garment he wore a purple one with some intricate golden lines.
The only thing I really didn’t like is that someone felt like it would be a good idea taking pictures in the middle of the service. I mean… Who in their right mind would go in front of the crowd to turn around and take pictures with their smartphone? That lady in the stripes, that’s who. I felt so much on edge I wanted to go there to grab her phone and throw it onto the ground. But I didn’t, of course. I couldn’t have.
After the burial everybody came over to express their condolences. It felt excruciatingly long in the heat. I heard my little brother mumbling “thank you” beside me, and saw my sister putting on a big show again. She acted like she was the best sister ever, and now she had a huge hole in her heart. It’s so obvious she’s going to get over this whole thing first. She would move on with her life like nothing happened. I didn’t want to think about this, but various pictures floated in front of my eyes – I even saw her using this as an excuse to evade certain unwanted responsibilities.
It’s not that I don’t like my sister. I do. She’s my sister, after all. I just hate that she’s always cared more about herself than about us. Her actual boyfriend had always been way more important than spending time with her siblings and parents. And now she came here, pretending to be so shocked and devastated… And you know what the worst was? I think on some level she actually believed she felt that way. I may never have been as pretty, rich or lucky as her, but at least I’ve been honest with myself. I guess that counts for something.
The burial feast was downright weird. It just didn’t feel right that all those people ate and drank like this was a celebration. I understood that this custom has roots way before our time, but still, it felt disrespectful. I also noticed that the whole day has started to take its toll on Dad. They already allowed my little brother to be excused. The rest of us were not so lucky.
I heard aunts and uncles reminiscing, and they said stuff like “she never got to finish that school, but I know she loved it so much” and “I know she wanted to be…” Yeah, right. Like they had the faintest idea. And my Mom kept nodding, pushing her fancy handkerchief to the corner of her eyes. Really, Mom? I mean, I know she loves us with all her heart and she’d do anything for us, but sometimes it feels like she doesn’t know us at all.
After a few miserable hours everybody left. I was very thankful for that; I just wanted to see Dad relax a little bit. It was obvious this whole thing was just a pain in his backside. This was for the world, for the relatives, for all the strangers who wanted to show they care. It was definitely not a nice, quiet occasion for my family to say goodbye. Not for Dad, anyway.
My Mom and sister went to the study to discuss the details of that money thing (good job, you guys, very sensitive), and my Dad went into the kitchen to have a drink. He hadn’t drunk a drop while all the guests were here. He wasn’t much of a drinker. But desperate times, I guess.
I silently left the house, and went back to the cemetery. It was hot, but not too hot, the sun was already going down, and it enveloped the land in a curious, orangey glow. I liked the huge trees, the deserted, winding walkways, the myriad of well-kept and neglected graves.
I knew the way, because my grandparents on my Mom’s side were buried there too. I never met them, they both died when I was little. I guess, that means that technically this was not the first burial I attended. I mean, I’d ask Mom, but… you know.
It was a very pretty marble gravestone. Had a sort of pinkish hue. I liked the simple, yet elegant design. The only thing I didn’t like was the name written on it. Alexis Antonia Taylor. I’ve always wondered where Antonia came from, but I’ve never asked my parents. I never quite liked it, to be honest, but I guess it didn’t matter all that much, since Alexis is a pretty cool name. Looking at the numbers carved into the stone was also not an exhilarating experience. I mean dying at the age of nineteen? Come on, universe, I really could’ve dealt with some more.
Anyway, now that it’s all over, what am I going to do? I mean haunting in the cemetery or my parents’ house would be such a cliché. But I guess I’m not in a rush. Maybe I should stay here for a few days. I’m sure there are many interesting parts of this place I’ve never seen before. And after that? We’ll see. After all, I have all the time in the world now…