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How We Buried Our Baby
Emptiness unlike I have felt ever before now sits squarely in my chest, rising and falling with my heartbeat. She was the baby in the family, born less than a decade before I was, yet ripped away far before any of us could see what she would grow to be. Melissa Carpini died, age 26, unmarried, unknown cause, and loved by more people than a single person will know in their entire lifetime. She was the youngest of my mothers siblings, and the clear favorite of my grandparents. Brilliance spilled from her mouth with every sentence she spoke and the world became a better place everywhere she laid her foot. She had the most potential in our entire family, and it was all snatched away from her and from us one darkened day in 2006.
I awoke early the morning of her passing. Nothing seemed out of place: school bus came on time, school went on for the six hours we are there, and the bus dropped me off at home at three o’clock. But as I stepped out of the bus, the bright sun shining down on me, I saw cars polluting my driveway. Everyone was there: Mom, Dad, Gramma, Pa, Aunt Carol, Great Auntie Coo-Coo, Uncle Bert, and Uncle Michael. Nothing came to me that would require the presence of my whole family. As I entered the house, nothing greeted me but red eyes, cigarette smoke, muffled sobs and the television failing to cover up my grandmother weeping on the couch. I set down my backpack which had suddenly seemed to triple in weight and sat down. Pouring myself and my brother a glass of milk, I stacked three Oreos next to each glass. We sat down, our parents approaching us, deep circles around my mother’s eyes and a look of shock and disbelief on my father’s. Standing next to us, a solitary tear escaped from my mother’s eye and I knew something terrible had happened.
“You’re Auntie Missy is dead.” Five words had passed through my father’s lips. Five words had broken me in half, snapping my being in two. The shining sun seemed to darken as my whole world turned black. I no longer cared what happened.
“You’re lying,” I screamed through hot tears. “You’re lying to me.”
My mother simply shook her head and hugged my shivering being close to her. Tears cascaded down from her cheeks onto my forehead. I opened my eyes only to catch a glimpse of my brother hugging my father and asking when this nightmare will be over. I receded into my thoughts, deep into my head, to try to process what had happened. The world was empty. Her life was over. Mine seemed like it should be as well.
A week later was her funeral. I rose from my slumber early in the morning, a hard knot deep in the pit of my stomach. Dismissing any thoughts that came to my mind, I rolled over onto my side and tried to fall back asleep. The instant I moved myself, the knot in my stomach jumped to my throat. Without thinking, my feet found the floor and I bolted towards the bathroom, doubling over the toilet as my stomach emptied itself, over and over, until there was nothing left and I was left dry heaving over the porcelain. It was four o’clock in the morning. This continued for the next two and a half hours until my father found me half unconscious on the floor of the bathroom. His hands wrapped around my shoulders and brought me to my feet. My legs too weak to stand I collapsed against the wall and fell limp onto the toilet.
“Do you want to stay home today?” he asked. “From the funeral?”
I was taken abroad by this question.
“Of course I don’t,” I choked out between heaves. “I can’t.”
After the vomiting subsided and Pepto-Bismol taken in dangerous amounts, I managed to dress myself in mourning clothes. A boy in a plain white button down shirt, tucked into deep black pants, covered by a black tie greeted me as I looked into the mirror. The funeral procession wasn’t scheduled until the next day, but it had already started in my house. One by one each of my family members slowly walking out of their respective rooms, none of us making a sound. Single file we exited the house, the only sound being the door as it shut closed behind us, but even that sound was muffled by the brewing and dreary storm clouds that hung above all of our heads.
As we filed into the car, everyone took their place like clockwork. Mom drove. Dad riding passenger. Ethan and I in the back seat. As my mother turned the key to the car, the familiar knot in my stomach decided to return. I doubled over where I sat, in pain and nausea, desperately trying not to let my stomach empty itself again. Hands fumbling, I unlatched the door right as my stomach clenched and my throat felt the familiar burn of bile on it. I continued to puke until nothing remained.
After cleaning myself off and washing my mouth out, we proceeded to the funeral. I walked in. My first reaction was of complete sadness, and then of even greater depression when I noticed how many people were there, all garbed in the deepest blacks and purest whites. Missy had been loved by so many. She had loved so many. Every eye in the audience was bloodshot and red, the clear sign of a missed loved one.
A single tear slid down the side of my face as I saw everyone sitting there, waiting to pay their respects to Missy. We loved her. Each and every one of us. And now she was gone. Mercilessly ripped from our arms, never to be seen again. Her beautiful voice would never again be heard. Her fragile pale face would never grace people with it’s presence. Never again.
I surveyed the audience. So many people were there. So many were going to miss her. All of them I knew felt sad, but I was sure I was one of the saddest. This was my first taste of death. This was my first encounter with someone I love being torn away from me. It was the first of many deaths to occur in my family, but this was the most devastating one of all.
All of the kids were ushered into the back room so they wouldn’t have to stare at the dead angel laying in the velvet lined coffin. Before I left, I caught a glimpse of her. She laid as she lived, simple yet unique, wise beyond her age, brilliant, beautiful, and calm. She lay motionless as if she had only thirty minutes ago laid down for a nap, yet her face showed the story of a dead woman, radiating a glow like a moon on a dark night.
We were hurried along, down a narrow hallway, past numerous doors and exits, until we reached a cornered off section of the funeral house. Six of us sat around a wooden table: Ben, Megan, Ethan, myself, and two other children, brought by another person who had known Missy.
We waited for hours. The funeral began at nine, maybe earlier, but all we could do was wait. No one laughed. No one joked. No one played or ate or enjoyed themselves. All we did was mourn the loss of our Auntie Missy, the baby of our family.
Hours passed, more than I cared to count, each one feeling like a century passing by. Finally, around five o’clock, we were ushered out just as we had been ushered in. All of us were huddled together in a pack, corralled so we wouldn’t have to deal with the presence of death that was haunting this house. I wouldn’t have any part in this. Between two adults, I slipped away and made my way to my auntie. As I got closer all of the memories we shared flooded back to me in one enormous wave. With each stride, another memory crashed down upon me. Us staring out my bedroom window watching the lightning strike the ground. Nerf guns and hundreds of games of cards. Each step brought me closer to her, but closer to the sadness I felt in letting her go. I reached the coffin and, kneeling down, crossed myself. Something felt wrong in doing that. Why would an all loving God take away the most wonderful person in the world?
Again wells of tears opened up in my eyes, cascading down onto my chest. Only then did anyone know I was missing. My father came over to me. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he tried to tell me it was time to go. I wouldn’t budge. After several attempts, he fell to his knees next to me. I prayed. I thought. I cried for longer than I can remember. When all was finished, I pulled on his jacket and dried my eyes. We exited the funeral home.
The second day was the same as the first. I woke up. I found myself in the bathroom. Dad found me hours later, although this time he didn’t ask if I wanted to stay home.The answer was and always will be no. Again we made our way to the car, my stomach flipping itself over with every step. As we drove to the wake, I recalled all the sorrow in the last day alone: all the red eyes, the darkened faces, and the deepened lips. We arrived.
I got out of the car and raised my hand to shield my eyes from the sun. My eyes drifted around. Through the sea of black clothing I found her casket. I wouldn’t look anywhere else for the longest time and my mother pulled me into the building. I always wondered why they never let me look at her for any long amount of time. We waited inside the building for a while, people meagerly picking at the food that was spread out: chocolate covered strawberries, pineapple, different manners of sweets, all of which were Missy’s favorites. My grandfather stood alone outside, near the pond, like the last tree that has to be cut down in a forest. He wasn’t moving, simply staring into the water as if it held the secrets to life’s mysteries. I went out and stood next to him, not making any more noise than he did. We stood like this for minutes, time slowly passing by. Finally he let out a sigh and his face collapsed. He walked inside, brushing off anyone who came to offer their condolences. I looked into the pond myself, hoping to see some miracle that had eluded my grandfather. The soft wind blew and the lily pads in the pond shifted, their rings intersecting in beautiful patterns.
Again I went inside the building, this time to find my grandmother. Garbed in all black, she stood, weeping in the corner, surrounded by other women I didn’t know. I came up to her and wrapped my little hand around hers, hoping desperately that this would help. I didn’t know what else to do. Her hand clasped mine tightly, more tears spilling from her eyes. She patted them with a handkerchief and loosened her grip. Looking down at me, I could see her face soften, as if she was looking at Missy in my place. She let go of my hand and walked away. Oftentimes I think of what I did to make her face soften at the time when she was going to bury her baby.
Finally, dreadfully, the time came. We proceeded outside to the grave, although no one would say that word. We all gathered around the preacher.
“We are gathered here to celebrate the life, the love, and the loss of Melissa Carpini...”
He droned on. Not having any ties to her I couldn’t see how he was supposed to make things any better. And the word celebrate didn’t feel right to me. Who celebrated death, especially that of a 26 year old girl who hadn’t been able to live her life?
As he finished speaking we all bowed our heads. Again, my stomach flipped and I ran to the grove of trees. What was left of dinner two days ago came up and struck the bark of the trees. Death did not want me present at this ceremony, but I was determined to be there. I had missed my last chance to say goodbye to her, and I wasn’t going to miss this one. I sucked in a lungful of air and walked back to the grave. She was being lowered into the deep hole, the sunshine glinting off the top of the casket slightly. Never will I forget the anger that began to boil inside of me. Why was everything at this funeral mocking her death? The sweet food, the bright berries, this mocking sunshine; every part of the day seemed to be openly insulting her death.
Finally the casket reached the bottom of the grave. A single tear fell from the corner of my eye as her casket was placed onto the bottom. Mom wouldn’t let me stay to watch them bury her. I crossed myself again, bowed my head, and told my auntie I loved her more than anything. The faint word goodbye left my lips as I climbed into the car. We drove away, all coming together at someone’s house to celebrate I don’t know what. I just wanted this nightmare to be over.
I woke up the next morning, and I thought it really was a nightmare. As quickly as I could I ran to the computer and sent Missy and e-mail. I waited for a response, but after the day passed like molasses and I had not gotten one, I knew this was the cold reality of life. The shock hit me only then. My aunt was dead. She was never coming back. Never coming home from California to visit. Never coming to Christmas dinner. Never to another holiday. We all miss her, but myself especially. I know how my grandparents feel and why they are the saddest ones of all. We will never forget her. Now the only thing I do is remember. And some days, I’ll sit around with my computer on, waiting for the E-mail I know will never come.