Saying Goodbye This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , Wyoming, MI

The room, or parlor, rather, was quaint. The green carpet that had obviously seen better days. Other than that, it wasn’t bad. Most of the walls were a light color, almost grey; except for the front wall made of glass, like a gigantic window. Two large plush chairs and a wooden bench furnished the center of the room, near the fireplace. However, what I remember most were the pictures. Those I noticed right away. Filled with smiles and laughter, some older, others more recent. Yet, all of them had one thing in common; there were no frowns. If someone asked for a definition of joy, I would put these pictures in front of them, saying “this is it”, and they would understand. A life full of glee and well spent with those you love; that was what these images displayed. 

Maybe that’s why it bothered me that I wasn’t in any of them. Unable to have any nice stories to tell, or a sweet memory to share. Not that I should’ve expected any of that, I was gone for a decade; but I still felt a pang in my chest, nonetheless. Although, overwhelming guilt is what forced me to tear my eyes away from the images. I should have done something, anything. Called, sent a letter, just a little gesture. Instead, for my whole life, I had sat back, and done nothing. The most was a card sent on holidays; or the occasional conversation over the phone, then handing it back to my Dad so he could continue talking to her.

"Her." The only word I could use to describe this person. Seeing all the pain and grief others suffered; it felt like I had no right to call her my family. It felt like I had no right to call anyone around here family. Everyone was kind and accepting, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I had. Whenever I looked at them I felt sad, almost pitied them to a point. They had just lost a mother, aunt, wife, friend. Or they were like me and had lost a grandmother. Again, it felt, and still feels, odd to say “lost”. How could I lose someone I barely knew? Did this all just make me an awful person? Not a single tear was shed from my eyes, while others were ready to start balling any moment. I just couldn’t do it; not a single tear, scream, or fit, no matter how much I wanted to. That was all I wished for, was to be able to give some type of reaction, to show everyone around me that I care. A way to show I understand.

Then there was this horrible part of my that felt jealous. She was gone, I would never get to know her. All of these strangers got precious memories, while I had nothing; and I never would. Being bitter about it all would do nothing for me, but I didn't care in the least bit. If I couldn't be sad, at least I could be angry. Of course, the anger subsided after a few moments, not because I wanted it to; only because it was useless to stay that way.

Out of nowhere, a hand was placed on my shoulder, knocking me out of my thoughts.

“Do you want to come with us?” A pair of brown eyes, identical to my own, were staring down at me.

Crossing my arms and turning to face my Dad, I replied.

“No, you guys go ahead.” 

He looked at me for a moment, almost like he was pondering what to say next.

“You sure? It’s fine if you want to.”

I shook my head.

“I’m positive.”

He nodded his in return.
 
“Alright, but come in if you want.” After that, he, my Mom, and sister walked into the room; going to give a private goodbye to his mother.

Another wave of guilt crashed over me. He and the rest of my family were all in pain, yet here I was, refusing to go into the tiny church. I was being selfish, why couldn’t I quit my own pity party, move my own two feet, and walk inside? There was no reason, really. Ignoring the urge to turn around, I made my way to the doorway where the parlor ended, and the chapel began. However, before I could make it, they all walked out. My chance was gone. Feeling utterly deflated, I was about to apologize when a voice called out through the room.

“The service is starting”

Everyone, some quicker than others, made their way into the church. Claiming a seat near the front, I sat. Whoever spoke before must have been wrong, because my Dad, his siblings, and my cousins were all standing near the casket, greeting people. Being perfectly fine in my seat, I took time to look around. There was a black cross hanging in the room, as customary, and the flowers gave off a subtle scent. People, most whom I’ve never seen, were mingling about. The entire room itself was a wooden brown, save for the one white wall. Slowly I was getting more comfortable, until my eyes reached my Dad’s and he waved me over.

In a matter of seconds, I was there. My Mother and sister were already standing next to my Dad, much to my confusion. But, finally, he spoke up.

“This is my youngest.” Dad smiled down at me, then to the man he must have been talking to.

“Hi, nice to meet you.” The man, whose name I didn’t know, or care to remember frankly, shook my hand.

“Nice to meet you too.” I responded. This was, to put it lightly, awkward for me. I didn’t know who this guy was, or why I was even up here. He must have known my dad, because they started a conversation that lasted for about ten minutes. From what I gathered, he and my Dad were close friends growing up.
The weird, uncomfortable time of greeting, talking, and much to my disdain, hugging complete strangers, eventually came to an end. People began scrambling to their seats, myself returning to the previous spot in the pews.

I must have zoned out, because soon enough, the priest was asking if anybody had any words to say. Eyes were darting back and forth, silently wondering who would speak first. A few moments of this passed, until, unsurprisingly, Dad stepped up to the stand. From what I can recall, his speech was pleasant. Despite the depressing air the room held, there were a few laughs; and some sweet things said here and there. Exact words don’t come to mind though, it’s just a blank. Shortly, he was done, and the priest once again, asked if anyone had any words. More awkward and anxious silence ensued. Finally, someone else stood up, then stalked up to the podium. It was a young woman. This time however, I was surprised; in fact it was almost unbelievable to me. The young woman was my sister.

She stepped up the the small microphone, relying on her tippy toes in order to reach it.

“Am I tall enough?”

Surely it wasn’t meant to be funny, but it was; the words themselves may have been unexpected, but it lightened the dreary scene. Various murmurs and polite laughter flitted through the air, until it was silent again.

“Okay.” She let out a breath.

“I didn’t know my grandmother. It feels weird to say that, honestly. I can’t really say that I’m here to tell a story about her, because they’re aren’t any.”

My head snapped up. From what I knew, that’s not something most say at a funeral.

“I guess you could say I’m mourning the fact that I never really got to know her, rather than her, herself. But hearing all these stories told by people who did know her, and loved her, it’s almost like I knew her myself. Even though both me and my sister missed out on knowing her for the past ten years, I can easily say that she was an amazing woman, who will always be missed.”

Applause sounded throughout the space. While everyone else was clapping, my mind was racing.

Five minutes. She was up there for maybe five minutes, yet she was able to describe exactly how I felt. What I had been thinking about since we arrived here, she could sum up so quickly. It amazed me, to be truthful. In a way I was grateful she spoke, it made everything come together, like little puzzle pieces finding their match.

After her little address, she simply walked back down the podium, then the aisle, and back to me.  Despite the tears threatening to spill out of her eyes, her posture was straight, and she kept her head tall. A hard look was on her face, but not an unpleasant one. More like she was trying to calm herself, rather than give off any unwelcoming expressions.

Suddenly, I did something neither of us predicted.

I scooched closer, wrapped my arm around her, and hugged her.

Chocolate eyes looked back at me, a bit shocked. Just as I was about to let go, her arms reached back out to me, trapping me in another embrace.

So we sat. A younger sibling trying to comfort the older one. Trying to silently tell her that she knew how she felt. We both knew neither of us knew how to deal with this situation. But in the end, we had a mutual understanding. A quiet and wordless thank you.

Sitting there, I knew saying goodbye to someone I never got to say hello to was difficult, but it didn’t mean I had to do it alone.






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