Mrs. Anderson knocked on the door. The sullen look on her face was a mask I was used to seeing that day. Over my mother’s conversation with her, the TV was blaring the same story it had been all day. “The Edmund Fitzgerald has not been communicated to since 8:30 last night.” The caption in the corner of the news anchor’s window had read 11/11/1975.
“We must keep hope, Bonnie,” whispered Mrs. Anderson, our nextdoor neighbor. My mother had been trying to silence her for my grandma’s sake. Grandma was quite old, and the talk over her son’s ship going down would sure not help her mental state. I, personally, didn’t understand the big fuss. I was sure Uncle Buck was fine. I was confident he was going to waltz in the door any minute with that same pulsing grin he always wore. Nobody has ever died in my life, I had thought to myself. That doesn’t really happen. My thoughts were still clouded by my seven year old innocence, but that cloud would soon blow away.
Buck never did come through that door again. He never ate with my mother or grandmother again. He never did, really, anything ever again. We never received complete confirmation of his death, but the odds were not in his favor. He was, in all likelihood, dead.
The weight of Buck’s death was pulling my family down- Grandma especially. The actuality of his death was simply too much for her to process. I couldn’t understand it either. The thought of someone really gone astounded me. Where did they go? To Heaven? Where’s that?
The funeral did no service in clearing up my questioning. The lack of Buck’s body made it seem as if we were just sitting in church again, mourning over an empty box. The real difference was the constant sobbing of relatives and family friends. The grief seemed to have absorbed the atmosphere and weaved out any happiness that could have been there. Grandma’s sobbing was by far the strongest. She was in utter distress. I don’t think she ever imagined one of her children dying before she did. I guess Death must follow a strict agenda, taking you when it is pleasing for him. He must have had a gap in his schedule large enough to fill that ship and all its crew.
As the priest lectured about God’s will for Buck, I sat there staring at the stain glass lining the windows. The colors on the glass mixed and swapped, the light and dark, the good and bad, the living and the dead. I was now curious about death wondering when I would get a first-class ticket to visit him. The sinking of the Fitzgerald had now opened my mind to new thoughts of death. These thoughts were darker and stranger than I was used to, however, I would soon have to adjust- for they were reality.
My thoughts preoccupied my little brain so much, that by the time the funeral had ended, I had liquefied part of the pew in drool.
A few weeks later, I became a year older for the eighth time in my life. I received the usual presents and cake, nevertheless, something about this birthday suggested difference. Not only had my legs and feet grown larger, but my sense of reality had too. Of course I did not realize it then, but looking back now, I started to feel the tug of time, the rains of sorrow, the joys of laughter, the feelings of wholeness and the feelings of emptiness. My mental state was blooming, like a flower bud popping open for the first time. I was comprehending more, and I was gaining a grasp of the real world. I started rejecting my old reality- my childhood. I was maturing. But, in due time, that reality would punch me again.
Grandma was dying. Our car rushed past the hanging lights and snowman structures. “Everything’s gonna be alright, Grandma. It’s ok. Just keep breathing,” I exclaimed in a terrified tone. I was comforting her, the lady who loved me dearest of all. It took everything I had not to look away and shame her for the horrid sight she was providing to me. It was a scary and all-consuming feeling. Fear. Fear that death would propose the same fate he did to Buck, to Grandma. Unlike one month ago, I understood the situation. Grandma was having a heart attack. Grandma was dying.
We carted her into the local hospital. It was dressed in garland and snow, appearing much too festive for the situation at hand. My mother was praying for any ounce of luck that God could bestow upon her mother. We remained there, waiting for any news the doctors could supply us. My little sister, Jill, was frightened beyond belief. The image of Grandma straining to produce even a single breath was solidified in her seven year old head. It was a bit too much for her. My little brother clearly was a bit confused. Being young, he was much more interested by the glowing lights than anything else at that moment. I, on the complete other side of the spectrum, was crying. Crying my eyes out for my grandma just as she had done for Buck. I knew what the doctor would say before he even said it. She was dead. Dead from a broken heart.
I stared at the fountain sitting in the lobby. The water appeared tempting and serene. The way it curved and twisted, similar to the way the stain glass colors did. A month ago, the water would have looked blue to me. Just blue. No contrast from the dark and light, no depth or meaning to it, just blue. But we grow. Grow to see the darks and lights, the depth and it’s meaning. Not just the blue.