I wrote this short-story in response to a challenge from Story Dam, a wonderful writer's blog I recently discovered.
In honor of Memorial Day. Loss can be something that is difficult for people to handle especially when it is someone close to you. There are many different traditions for helping a loved one transition to the next phase and for remembering them once they are gone.
Dam Burst Prompt:
Fiction or Non – Fiction, you can write about the passing of a loved one or you can show us how you would like to leave this world in an ideal situation.
Enjoy! And as always, I look forward to your comments - good or bad, nmw.
Thanks for being here!
-----------------------------------------------------------------FREEDOM IN DEATH
I stood there for a very long time, looking at him in the casket, trying to feel something. Nothing came. He looked emaciated and could have easily been one of the street bums that cities try so hard to get rid of. Joy? Was that joy that just coursed through my veins? The thought was so morbid I turned away.
I wasn’t surprised to see the room sparsely occupied. It was a shame he was being buried Memorial Day weekend. It somehow implied honor and he deserved none. I took a seat on the first pew as instructed and closed my eyes. I imagined the families visiting gravesites over the weekend throughout the nation to pay homage to loved ones that did deserve such tributes. My dad had never given anything of himself his entire life, unless you counted the brutal meanness he readily bestowed on others as a gift.
It startled me when someone mistook my closed eyes for grief and briefly laid a hand on my shoulder. She seemed like a nice, gentle, older lady and I was wondering who she was and what she might be doing there when she spoke, “I’m so sorry for your loss dear.”
I wanted to reply but had nothing to say. Then I realized I didn’t have to speak. Grief struck people aren’t expected to respond so I just gave a faint smile with a slight nod.
It all seemed so appropriate and for some reason that made me want to laugh, but I refrained. My self-imposed constraint wasn’t out of respect however, especially for him. It was due mostly to fear. It occurred to me that if I started laughing, or crying, or even talking for that matter that I might never stop. The kind lady patted my back ever so gently and moved on.
I wanted to turn around to see if she sat down somewhere behind me, but I didn’t want to see. Not really. The truth was, I didn’t want to be seen. I just wanted to get it over with and get out of there. Finally, someone walked up to the lectern and tapped the microphone.
My brows creased. It was a priest. I didn’t mind that it was a priest. I could care less, but I couldn’t help but wonder, “Was I supposed to get someone to officiate the service?” This time I did look around. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but promptly one of the funeral attendants was at my side.
She knelt down beside me and quietly whispered, “How can I help you?”
“We’re whispering?” I thought. “Really?” I looked around again and there was no one in the pews but me and the kind lady who sat a few rows back. I realized that the other people I had witnessed earlier were staff members from the funeral home.
As if to remind me that she was still there, the young redhead said, “Miss?”
I decided to play along and whispered back, “Who is this guy?” nodding toward the priest.
“That’s Father Jackson.”
“Did you guys hire him?”
“We’ll go over everything after the service Miss Dunley.”
She left and I once again turned to look at the little old lady sitting behind me. She nodded as if to signify understanding. My brows creased again and I faced forward.
The priest did his thing and I’m sure it was eloquent. I didn’t listen. My mind kept going back to the last time I saw the bastard in the coffin. He had been arrested, again, and I had gone to the jail, again. Only this time I went to tell him that I wasn’t bailing him out and he would never see me again. Ever. He exploded in screams. I could still hear him ranting and raving as I walked through the lobby and left the police station. I never looked back, and he never saw me again.
I looked at the coffin now and thought about all the people that talk about angels in heaven looking down on us. I wondered if people in hell could look up. “Nah, I doubt it.” I almost said it out loud and turned my attention back to the eulogy, but it was over. The priest was just finishing a prayer. I think.
He stepped off the podium and came across the aisle. He took my hand and I stood up. As I stepped into the aisle, they were closing the casket. My back straightened and suddenly, unexpectedly I felt 10 years lighter, younger.
I spoke softly as they closed the lid, “It’s been years since you’ve seen me and now I never have to worry about seeing you again.”
The priest patted my hand and handed me a handkerchief even though I wasn’t crying. I found the old-fashioned gesture touching and did not resist when he tucked my arm through his and walked with me to the foyer of the funeral home.
Once there, he gave me his card. I thought it odd that an old-fashioned priest would have a card, but then, the whole day had been odd. I took it and politely thanked him. As he walked off the little old lady walked up to me. I liked her. There was something about her that felt warm and safe. “How odd,” I thought. “At least the day is consistent.” I shook my head.
“I hope you don’t mind that I hired Father Jackson. I’ve known him since he was a boy.”
“You hired him?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, I did.”
“Who are you?”
Almost instantly, magically, another attendant was at my side and made the introduction. “Miss Elisabeth Ann Dunley, this is Liza Annette Dunley, your grandmother.”
The attendant stepped away and I stood frozen in time, gaping at the woman before me. I couldn’t speak. So she did, “When Jacob died…”
“Who?” I interrupted.
“Jacob,” she hesitated. “Your father.”
“I never called him that and I knew him only as Jake.”
She nodded in understanding once again and continued, “When Jake died, the authorities contacted me. I had not seen or heard from him in over 30 years. I did not even know I had a granddaughter until the reading of his Will.”
I was trying to wrap my head around it all when someone led me to a chair. Not knowing what else to do I followed along and the little old lady, my grandmother, sat down beside me.
“He had a Will?” I knew that probably should not be my first question but it was the safest.
“Yes.” And when her granddaughter looked at her with the same eyes that looked like hers 50 years before, she added, “He didn’t have much as far as worldly possessions.”
“Now there’s a shocker.” I snorted. Then added, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to you.”
Liza laid a gentle hand over mine on the chair arm, “It’s okay” she said. “I really do understand.”
The tears started flowing and as I feared, they would not stop. Liza pulled me in for a hug and I cried on her shoulder. We stayed like that for a long time.
Finally, I reached for the handkerchief Father Jackson had given me and she pushed the hair out of my face.
“Do you have a place to stay?” she asked softly.
“No, I rode the bus here and I haven’t looked for a hotel yet.”
“Then I would like for you to come stay with me.”
“I don’t want to impose,” and I genuinely meant that even though I wanted to be with her more than anything.
We began walking to the front door. “It’s not an imposition Elisabeth. I can promise you that.”
I saw the limo just as the driver was opening the door.
She looked at me and winked, “My son may not have had much, but I do.”
I’m not sure why, but I took a step back. I was going to decline when she turned and faced me.
“Elisabeth,” she took both my hands in hers, “I have money, but I’ve never had a family. Your father was a fool. He had all the riches in the world because he had you. I would have given everything I own to have helped you, but I didn’t know. Let me help you now. Please?”
I stood there for a moment until I knew what to say, “No, but I’ll help you. How long can I stay?” I smiled a big sheepish grin and waited.
“We’ll help each other child.”
I climbed into the car beside her and headed to my new life.