The hands of the clock don’t seem to move as fast and everything spins in slow motion. Seconds could feel like a month. Minutes might feel like a year. Whatever the situation is, however, we may or may not want those days to last.
We might not want to feel the heartache that brought us those long days, but we know it’s there. We eventually have to confront it – not just deal with it so it goes away for a while. There might even be a moment when we have to not only be honest with ourselves but also be open to others around us.
It’s a moment when we must not only feel pain, but also acknowledge it. That’s when we find out exactly where we place honesty on our scale of importance. It might not land on the spot we wanted or expected. Or it may land perfectly. Either way, we re-learn things we thought we knew all along.
I thought the notion of death wouldn’t hit me as hard as it did with my grandfather. I thought going through the process of losing someone whom I was close to would be what I’d always been told it was: saying goodbye to that person while they’re sleeping. I didn’t know any better, so I didn’t question it. I’d only been to a handful of funerals up until his passing, but something was different this time.
I was old enough to understand what was actually going on. My grandfather was not sleeping, nor was he coming back. There was nothing anyone could do or say that would change that, no magic wand to wave. All I knew at this moment was that I needed something – a wave, a faint smile, a nod – to let me know things were going to be OK. They were far from that at the time, and I knew it would take a long time before life would feel normal again. Or whatever my family would come to know as normal.
I wasn’t sure that day would ever come. I also tried to make sense of the fact that this great man was the first of my grandparents to be laid to rest. Why did this happen? Did someone else need him more than my family?
I wrestled with this in the few short days leading up to his funeral as I thought about all of the plans I had for my future, and the ambitions that I had of becoming “the best writer in the world”, as my grandparents always told everyone they crossed paths with. So, here I was – one year away from graduating high school and having my priorities rearranged in a shocking, painful way. Everything came to a screeching, sudden halt – and I stopped with it. So did my entire family, including my younger brother who my parents had adopted three years before this tragedy struck.
He was too young to realize what had happened and why we were preparing to say goodbye to someone he barely got to know. It wasn’t fair that his time with him was so short, but this entire situation wasn’t fair to any of us. My older brother, knew what was going on like I did. I could tell he was numb from the sadness and shock, but he was trying his best to be strong for everyone.
I didn’t want anyone to know that this was all crashing down around me, but I couldn’t hide my own sadness. I was trying to catch these now shattered pieces of my life as they fell. When the day came to say goodbye, my family did everything they could to not fall apart. My parents quietly loaded me into our van and made sure everyone was as comfortable as possible.
We arrived at the funeral home later that day to find many of our family members who live out of town quietly gathered in a well-lit hallway – hugging and crying on each other’s shoulders. I waited there with my parents because I was too devastated to go into the next room where the casket was. My older brother went in to comfort my Nana, who was already there. My uncle and aunt met us in the hallway and cried with us.
I was close enough to the door to peak in, and saw that the casket was open. My heart immediately sunk and my hands started to sweat. As I tried to gather myself, a long line of my grandfather’s friends, acquaintances and longtime co-workers began to form. It wrapped around the outside of the funeral home and seemingly went on for miles. It was fitting, because my grandfather knew almost everyone in town.
The line kept getting longer as my mom, uncle and aunt – his and my Nana’s children – walked into the room to greet and thank the hundreds of people who came to pay their respects. Every person who passed by the casket stopped to share a deep embrace with Nana, who had been crying for so long that her tears dried on her face. I slowly went into the room, in amongst the quiet chaos, when I saw someone hug my mom before politely making her way through the crowd to get to me.
She came closer and smiled. I broke down right away, because this wasn’t a stranger. This was my friend, Rachel, who was in many of my classes and could make me laugh on my worst day. She didn’t say anything as she was now standing in front of me. She just hugged me until I calmed down.
I knew two things right then and there: I was going to be OK and most importantly, I had a genuine best friend.
Both things are still true, more than 15 years later.
Life isn’t always fair, but there is always a reason to be honest with yourself. It may not come easily and take more work than you’re prepared for. When you have loving, caring people in your corner, however, you can’t go wrong!
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