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It is Not Forever MAG
The sun shone in my eyes as I stepped out of my family'smini-van. The parking lot was full, but I recognized my maternal grandmother'sstation wagon. I glanced at my mother as we walked toward the funeral home, andthough she kept her eyes on the ground, I could see her cheeks weredamp.
Sunlight radiating from the skylights illuminated the funeral home,the beams bouncing off the floors and beige walls. I shut my eyes, overcome bythe heavy perfume of flower arrangements. When I opened them again, I could seethe beautifully decorated room, in scarlet and embroidered velvets. Heels clickedacross the hardwood floor.
I jumped as a hand touched my shoulder, andturned to see my father.
"The service is going to start in anhour," he said, his voice wavering. "You can look around or whateveruntil then." I stood there, trembling. There were two options: I could lookat all the pictures of my grandfather (and be overwhelmed by the intoxicatingflowers) or I could explore the hallway to the right.
I chose thehallway. It was remarkably dim, and the silence so staggering that I wondered ifit were a private area. Then I saw two rest rooms. The door labeled"Women" opened and I stepped back in surprise as my 17-year-old cousinKyle sheepishly peered out. Trying to fight back a laugh - he was, after all, inthe women's rest room - I raised an eyebrow. He just shrugged and said,"We're all in here."
I joined him and my cousins, sitting on oneof the many couches. I understood instantly why we were there: this was ourretreat. It was so difficult for us to keep up our stoic façades in frontof our parents. It was better to be away. Our parents were so emotional that itjust made them feel worse to see us grieving. Even though I wanted to cry at thisrealization, I also felt a little better surrounded by those whounderstood.
For a while we sat there looking at each other, sucking on thepeppermints we had discovered in a basket.
"You guys," mycousin Valerie said quietly. "Do you remember when we had that huge contestin Grandma and Grandpa's pool? When we all balanced on our noodles to see whocould stay on the longest?" Her small smile grew brighter as she said in awistful tone, "Grandpa always said he was the Master of Noodles, but healways fell off seconds after he was finally balanced." I looked at a spoton the wall, remembering very clearly the moment Valerie described. "I alsoremember how Grandpa used to flex his muscles and try to look all strong beforehe'd jump in the pool. I think he used to do it just to make me stop crying whenI was little and scared of the water," she added.
We were all silent,looking at our hands.
"What I remember is how he used to read to mein different voices when I was little, and he would do things like tickle me andwhisper in my ear as we were reading," said Kyle.
We all sharedstories, and our voices were more joyful with each memory. The coldness that hadengulfed me for days was fading. Even as I felt comforted, I started to feelguilty; it wasn't right to experience joy when I was supposed to feel sorrow. Theothers seemed to share this conflict because we all looked down guiltily andremained silent until it was time for the service.
I didn't look atanyone as I took my seat. I wanted with all my heart to be somewhere else, or atleast to sit with my cousins. I felt closer to them right then than anyone else;they too had lost the world's greatest grandpa. But in the end we all sat withour immediate families.
The February sun cast dark shadows across thefloor. I didn't know what was going to happen, and I stopped breathing for amoment. A woman I didn't know welcomed us and handed us a purple sheet of paper,but I was too busy watching my great-aunt make her way to the microphone toread.
"I'm Aunt Babe, Gretchen's sister," she began. "Iknow I speak for our entire family when I say there were three of Ian'sattributes that we especially valued: His deep devotion and support for hisfamily and friends, his sense of humor which could lighten the heaviest moments,and his quiet stability.
"I was in high school when my sisterstarted dating him. She was in cadet nurse training; he was a vet in law school.I remember when he was at our house that Christmas Eve. Our little brother hadleft cookies for Santa and gone to bed. Ian ate the cookies, leaving visiblecrumbs and a smudged note on the plate that said, 'Please clean chimney.'I knew then that I was going to like him.
"In later years, I canpicture him sitting on a couch with children crawling over him, never scolding ormissing the conversation, patiently tending to this one and that, never seekingthe spotlight.
"He was a beloved man of good will, and he left theworld a better place."
I did not take my eyes off my great-aunt , andtried not to cry as I listened to her. As person after person spoke, more andmore tears were shed. Many could not even finish their stories, they were sochoked with emotion. But I did not let a tear fall; I wanted to be brave for mygrandfather.
I glanced at the people around me, and spotted my father'sbrother and his wife. They weren't even related to my grandfather and had met himat special family gatherings (including my first communion) yet they had driven80 miles to be there. To my absolute amazement, tears were streaming down theirfaces. I felt the knot in the back of my throat tighten, and I looked away. On myother side, my sister had clenched her fists in little balls and was looking outthe window. But what struck me most, right in the middle of my heart, was theimage of my father. My father, whom I had never seen cry, had a single tearrunning down his cheek. I felt that ball in my throat tighten even more before itdissolved, and I began sobbing while the priest intoned prayers.
Mygrandfather's parents came to America from Scotland, and our tartan was placed onhis casket. As bagpipes began to play, sorrow and pain overpowered me. I felt mysister's hand slip into mine, and even though it gave me some comfort to know shewas hurting just as much as I was, that just made me sob evenharder.
After a few minutes of bagpipe music, my tears subsided. The musicstopped; there was silence. Then the woman who had welcomed us returned, purplepaper clutched in her hand, and cleared her throat.
"I am going toread to you a poem by Nanette Hamilton. Feel free to followalong."
There was a rustling of papers, but instead of looking at mycopy, I stared at the woman.
We feel sad for what we have lost.
Wefeel poor for the empty spaces.
We feel rich for we have eachother.
We will cry for what we can't have.
We will laugh for ourmemories abound.
We will hurt for the love we can't give.
We willrejoice for the love we have received.
We will be restless for our livesare not whole.
We will be peaceful for we know it is notforever.
As her last words faded into silence, I felt a sudden surgewithin me, for those words tingled inside my heart. They described everything Iwas feeling. And I knew the poem was right - I could now be peaceful, for nothingwas forever.