Written for a school assignment. Hope you enjoy!
I had been too young to attend my grandfather's funeral. Plenty of stories about it had been told to me over the years though; my cousins and brothers had been left alone with him in his coffin for what turned out to be a little too long. My cousin had climbed on his body and tried to pry his eyes open, convinced he was just sleeping. My mother had told me that laughingly. My brother – after coming back from the funeral – had taken a glider swing to the face as he was playing in the backyard, blood gushing down from his chin; it had needed several stitches. That hadn't been as funny.
Of course I had learned that death was a sad thing, but through the stories I learned that even in times of tragedy you can still have good times too. Or maybe not good, just a break from the pain and sorrow.
When my grandmother died eight or so years later it was much the same. There were tears, and there was my aunt whooping my cousin's ass for walking in on her while she was changing for the funeral. No knocking was considered a crime. The coffin had to be turned almost upright to get it out of the house at all, in an effort to distract the younger kids my cousins had started a tickle fight. It worked.
Of course, it is a lot easier to distract yourself when you're not all that close to the deceased. And, while I certainly loved my grandparents, I had never spent that much time with them. Still, death didn't seem that painful to me. My other grandfather, after a many years long struggle with lung cancer caused by his work with asbestos, had opted for euthanasia to end it once and for all. I remember watching his eyes close, his last breath leaving his body. Peaceful.
It wasn't until I was 20 years old and turned onto our street after skipping my last lecture of the day, and saw the police car parked in front of our house, that I learned it isn't always like that. I knew it wasn't always just peacefully closing your eyes surrounded by your family, or dropping dead of a heart attack right as you're about to win a game of billiards at the local pub.
Walking into the house I could sense something had changed. I dropped my schoolbag into the hallway telling myself I would take it up to my room later knowing full well I wouldn't touch it until the following Monday. My dad came out of the living room, meeting me in the hallway. His eyes were red. Dried up tears on his cheeks. He suddenly looked a lot older.
'I have awful news.'
I tried to give him a hug but he pushed me away and grabbed me by the elbow probably a little rougher than he had intended. Two cops were sitting on the couch, looking up at me with a sympathetic look in their eyes.
I vaguely remember sitting down, my mind racing trying to figure out what could have happened that warranted cops coming to our house. Every scenario I came up with was quickly dismissed but my mind wouldn't allow me to think of anything more serious than my ninety year old grandmother passing in her sleep.
My dad's exact words escape me, his exact phrasing forgotten almost as soon as he had uttered them.
An accident. My brother, a student sailor on a cargo ship, had somehow ended up in the water, his body was found several hours later. They weren't exactly sure about all the details yet but that was the gist of it. Drowned. Dead.
I remember panic setting in, my heart hurting so bad I could barely breathe. I remember the cops leaving and my dad holding me until he had to get up to call the family. Mum had gone with her boyfriend of two and a half weeks to visit his baby grandson in the hospital after tea had been spilled on him, his body covered in burns. My oldest brother had just gotten home from work, his girlfriend on her way to get them ice-cream even despite the freezing temperatures outside. My other brother, he had just finished his shift, had immediately called his girlfriend to come to our house so dad could tell her what had happened.
We had all just been leaving our ordinary lives while my youngest brother – just a year and a half older than me – had been rushed to hospital where after a couple of hours he had been declared dead.
While family was on their way my dad went over to our neighbour's house, asking my neighbour for the name of the funeral director who had taken care of her husband's funeral just a month before. I went into our shed in the backyard, not wanting to upset my father with my crying, as I called my best friend.
I could tell she was slightly out of breath as she picked up the phone.
I didn't finish the sentence. I couldn't. My crying was getting louder by the second and I noticed the growing confusion in my best friend's voice when she asked,
'What did he do?'
She knew our history.
'He's dead.' I finally managed to say, my voice shaking.
I was holding on to the stuff hanging on the wall in the shed to keep me up, the cobwebs for once not bothering me. The freezing cold didn't bother me even though my coat had been left in the house.
I don't remember how long we were on the phone for, neither of us said much. I hung up, she went on her way to work at the diner, I went back inside to start the longest week of my life.
Mum was last to show up. She parked her car on the street, getting out looking more composed than I had expected her to. It didn't last long, she slowly crumbled down as she walked over to me and we both sobbed as I held her in my arms, neither of us knowing what to say.
It was still dark outside when the next morning we all piled up in a van to drive the six hours to the hospital in Germany to go see him. It was very quiet. There was nothing funny about it. There was no break from the pain, not even for a second. There was me, my head lying on my mother's shoulder, counting in my head how long it had been since he had died. 21 hours. 22 hours. 23 hours. 1 full day.
Seeing his body was surreal. The large gash on his forehead had been covered with a bandage. My mom pointed out the heart shaped bruise on his cheek. My dad wanted to check his feet to see if they had cleaned his whole body and not just the part that hadn't been covered by the white sheet. His hands with the nails bitten down to nearly nothing were lying at his side.
We went to visit the ship he had been working on to clean out his cabin, my father promptly dumping Jeremy's leftover cocaine in the water, stuffing the rest of his belongings into a duffel bag. We had dinner with the shipper and his wife, he told us about his brother who had died in the exact same way as my brother 23 years earlier; in a sluice, tying a robe to the sluice wall, a wave causing the ship to rock up and down, the robe snapping, hitting him in the head and knocking him overboard. Apparently a common story.
It was two days later that we were building Jeremy's coffin at my mum's house. We had barely started when I got a splinter and resigned myself to tea and coffee duty for the rest of the day. I busied myself with absentmindedly running my finger over the swelling that had remained in my wrist after it had been bruised years earlier. It reminded me of him. My dad was absentmindedly humming a song and my sister-in-law looked at him, her brows furrowed.
'I am a Christmas bauble?' She asked, referencing a Bert and Ernie song.
She and my dad shared a look before they both burst out laughing. They looked it up online for the rest of us who didn't know it. After the first laugh many others followed. Even as Jeremy's body laid just a metre from us as we were eating dinner the next couple of days, the laughs came much more easily after the first one had been had. Mum told us about her going to the shop to buy the cloth to line the coffin with, the sales associate had asked her what it was for. That got a big laugh out of all of us.
Over the next few days the makeup that had been put on him to hide the bruises somewhat began to rub off, we had been warned this could happen if you touched his face too much but dad hadn't been able to contain himself, had kissed his face all day every day that week now that he still could. I had too. Jeremy's face began to droop a little, his eyes opening just the slightest bit reminding us all that there was no one who would climb on him to try to pry them open. He didn't have a grandson who would ever do that for him.
The funeral was perfectly imperfect. We had consulted Jeremy's best friend for songs to play and had ended up with a list of songs that while beautiful and perfectly appropriate for the occasion, Jeremy would have hated. My brothers embraced each other before carrying his coffin in along with a cousin and some friends. My father delivered a eulogy and my brother supported him on the way back to the pew. My mother was slightly more composed, her belief that she could talk to ghosts – his ghost included – provided some comfort. My brother's headmaster gave a eulogy that was more than slightly generic and probably similar to the one he had given a week earlier at the funeral for another student of his.
It had been just three weeks since Christmas when I saw my extended family from my dad's side again at the funeral. My mum's family that I hadn't seen in years was there too, I wouldn't see them again until my aunt succumbed to cancer a year later.
And then came after. There was a feeling that my life had ended but every morning the sun still came up, the world kept turning. My mum and dad kept the flowers we had received in their backyards until they had all withered away. I returned to school the Wednesday after the funeral but don't remember much of anything from the next few months.
His death reaffirmed my belief that there is good that can come from death. My brothers and I became much closer and even though we're all three pretty much emotionally stunted we can actually say I love you to each other now. We can; we just don't. I know that the worst week, month, year of my life is most likely behind me. There is no more worrying about his addiction spinning out of control and him OD'ing. There is no more worrying about if he will ever get his life together. There is no more worrying that a fight with him over the TV remote will end with him standing over me with a kitchen knife threatening to kill me if he doesn't get his way.
I still count in my head how long it has been since he passed. 4 years, 3 months, 14 days, 8.5 hours. 4 years, 3 months, 14 days, 8.5 hours of pain, sorrow, and buried underneath it all just a little bit of relief.
But, I'd still much rather take a swing to the face.