Guilt, Regret, and Funerals

March 11, 2012
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We sat, waiting. The “hellos” had been said, the hugs and handshakes exchanged, all replaced by a pounding silence. I felt like a dam inside, tears on the brink of overflowing. I was coated in emotion, a collage of different feelings trying to squeeze onto the same canvas. Anger, melancholy, frustration, love, regret; they were all there, making me feel tense. Trying to distract myself, I examined the church as one would a painting. The curves of the wooden pews, the spacious ceiling, the windows splattered with color, and the soft silk drapes that stole their color from the Pink Lady Slipper flower. Maggie, my neighbor, would have loved the color; soft and gentle like her own personality. Maggie was the reason why I was there- at the Church. That day was her funeral. My family and I were there to mourn the loss of our best friend, someone who felt like family. The thought of being there unleashed a rampage of feelings inside me and time itself seemed to slow down. People began to still themselves; all people from my past. There were faces I desired to see again, but I never expected to have that wish come true under such tragic circumstances. Memories from my childhood seeped into my mind.

When I was young, life was free, easy, and problems ceased to exist. I had loving neighbors on every side of me. Maggie lived right next door on my left. She had always been a major part of our family, including raising me when I was just a baby. My parents would both go to work during the day and she would watch over me, feed me, play with me, read to me, and the most toxic chores of them all, change my diapers. To Maggie; however, the deed was nothing less than joyful. Maggie was always so lively; she laughed, she told jokes, and she would buy candy just for us kids. I remember spending minute after minute at her house helping with her garden or simply sitting on her lap to engage in conversation. She was always the first house that I went to for Halloween and she always, always remembered some of my favorite things.

Little did I know, the memories wouldn’t last. Time passed and I grew up. I turned into a teenager and became “too busy” to pay a visit. I saw Maggie less and less, and she was getting older and older. Her mobility became limited to a motor scooter, and she had to get surgery done on her knees. Even then, I failed to take ten minutes of my time to say hi. Then came the last doctor appointment that stationed her on a hospital bed twenty four-seven. I clearly remember the first time my mom said to my sisters and me, “We need to go together and visit Maggie.” So many thoughts clashed in my mind. I didn’t know what she would think of me after not visiting her for years. I trudged up the driveway, staring at the ground. We approached the front door and there was an untouched sign with visiting hours. We entered the house and I put my brave face on. I didn’t want to show any feelings. I thought seeing her in a moment like this was like accepting the fact that she was going to die. Walking through that front door was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Then we saw her, accompanied by some of her family. Her body looked like bones with a layer of skin on them. Loosely fit like clothing two sizes too big. I remember chuckling to myself because even though she was sick beyond repair, she still enjoyed her Coca Cola. On the foot of her bed was a small table, flooded with cards and many of her own cherished photos. Her talking was reduced to yes’s and no’s but enjoyed the conversation none-the-less. When we got up to leave, I made sure to tell her that I love her and in her raspy voice, with complete truth, she said, “I love you too.”

The church chorus began to sing, their voices echoing throughout the vast church. Everyone turned their bodies toward the back and I did the same. There it was, the symbol of death itself. The carefully shaped casket was being rolled down the isle. Its hinges held my beloved neighbor captive, only to be freed when God carries her heaven. I cried. For the first time, I cried. Maggie had died! I couldn’t deny it anymore and I couldn’t run away. The touch of her hand unreachable, the ring of her voice silenced, and the twinkle of her smile vanished. Maggie Gross had died. My mom was crying on my left, my dad on my right. As hard as I tried, there was no way of stopping. Not now. Not when all I could feel was guilt, not when I’d been holding it in, refusing to accept the inevitable. My heart stopped as the casket did, displaying itself at the front. The Priest held in his hand a sullen white sheet that was to be spread over the casket. Slowly, gently, perfectly, the sheet was laid on Maggie’s casket. The Priest then said a few things, but I wasn’t really listening. I was trying to see through the blur of the tears in my eyes. I was trying to understand my rush of emotions. My thoughts were on Maggie and how life changing she was; how she was always there for me, even when I didn’t know it. Frequently, my mind rewound back to the Fourth of Julys and the dinners that she often prepared. Every individual that lived on the cul-de-sac was a member of her family.

The funeral ended the same way it started. The casket was rolled out of the church and a final hymn was sung. Tears still rained down my face; a handful of tissues, filled with my sorrow. All the other familiar faces from my childhood were also weighted on by melancholy. The good-byes were swift, and the crowd diminished. The car awaited our return so that it could bring me and my sisters back to school. I, however, didn’t want to go back. My desire was to go home and deal with my grief. My mom assured me that getting my mind off the topic would be the best medicine. In my mind, I strongly disagreed, but looking back now, I would say the same thing to someone else. The car revved to a start and Braid Paisley’s song “No” came on right at the chorus. “Make no mistake, every prayer you pray gets answered, even though, sometimes the answer is No.” The last verse of this song is about his grandpa lying on a hospital bed, reaching the end of his life. Immediately I knew that it was God’s way of telling me that he heard every one of my pain filled prayers, but decided that it was time for Maggie to go live eternally with him. I emotionally couldn’t listen to the song any longer, grief stabbing at my heart, so the radio was turned off and the rest of the car ride was done in silence. No one talked; all that was heard was the sound of rushing cars, oblivious to the gray hanging over us in our little blue Mazda Three. Seconds began to feel like minutes and minutes began to feel like hours. My mom pulled into the high school and parked the car. I sat there, waiting for my tears to dry and the redness in my eyes to vanish. Then, reluctantly, I trudged my way heavy-hearted into the school, looking back only to see my mom drive away.

That day is a memory that, at times, I wish to forget, but ultimately it has a purpose and a meaning to my everyday life. Maggie’s death and funeral made me realize that time spent with those dear to us is important. I didn’t spend as much time with Maggie as I could have, or as much as I should have. I let my fear get in the way. Once time is gone, going back to relive and change the past isn’t one of the choices. Maggie watches over me everyday and when I get to drive out to South Dakota to see my grandparents, she reminds me that it shouldn’t be viewed as a pain-in-the-butt ten-hour drive, rather a time to share treasured moments together and build memories as a family. Sure enough, Maggie had an influence on my life up until her last breath. Though her death was a painful experience, I don’t think I would’ve learned the valuable lesson that I did if she were still alive and I’d still fail to knock on her door. Drives to South Dakota would still be a non-meaningful vacation to me, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow and change. I remember praying with all my heart that she would live just long enough to see my graduation. Maggie was strong and healthy and lived a really long time, but still I wanted her to live just a year more. I just tell myself that she will still be watching me, only she is going to have the best seat in the house, right there next to me. I will never forget Maggie and I will always love her. Someday my grandparents are going to die, but now I know how important they are to me, and I’m not going to let them go like I did Maggie. I’m going to make the most of it and be there for them when they really need me. Next time I’ll be prepared. Guilt and regret won’t be knocking at my door again.

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