Expressions of Grief
Mother died two days ago. Or perhaps it was three days ago… I can’t quite remember right now. It was in the early morning hours of whatever day it happened. I’ve been caught up in a hurricane of post-Mother ridiculousness ever since. Though, admittedly, I do find some solace in the quiet of the eye of this little hell storm she has left for me.
It’s an odd sensation. The act of contemplating the loss the person with whom you once shared the most intimate connection possible, I mean. Mother and I had not been as close as I would have liked in the years leading up to this moment, but we had always gotten on reasonably well in spite of it all. I would be lying if I said that I won’t miss at least some part of her now that she is permanently absent from this world.
I’m sitting in the funeral director’s sterile little room now, going through Mother’s last will and testament. I was awarded the honors of executorship. An atrocious position, really, especially given Mother’s sordid state of affairs—bits and pieces of a life not quite fulfilled all scattered about, needing to be excavated from locked cellars. Cellars—both proverbial and literal—to which no one seems to have the keys. My sisters are jealous that I am the one who gets to read these last rights. God knows why… Nothing Mother had was worth anything to anyone besides her, but they don’t seem to understand that. “I wish it could have been you,” I told them. My words landed empty and hollow on their greedy ears, but they were filled to the brim with sincerity, truly. No one deserves this sentence.
This little room is rather peculiar. A mildly ambered glow from the lamp in the corner washes the space with a subtle warmth. It’s likely meant to sand the edges of brittle emotions, but I find it rather grating. I can only imagine the number of tears, quiet laughs, and torrid arguments these walls have absorbed over the years.
The funeral director sits across from me. He is typing information into his little screen while I stare at the vanilla creme walls just beyond the edge of the bald man’s comically large earlobe. He is sweating under his navy suit jacket—I can see moisture saturating the starched edges of his skim-milk white collar. He types slowly with the tips of his index fingers because keyboarding classes weren’t even a glimmer in the imagination of human consciousness when he was in school.
An associate from the nearby cemetery sits beside the funeral director, elbows leaned onto his thighs. He says nothing. Instead, he quietly picks at his hangnails, occasionally pulling at the stray edges of skin between gritted teeth. This young man wears a smart grey suit over his crisp white dress shirt, and a navy striped tie which he has pinned back with a shining silver clip. His dark brown hair is combed back and over just so. This is old hat for him. He is here because Mother intended to be laid to rest at the cemetery that employs him, so he will help finalize the arrangements for her burial. And try his darnedest to find something that she overlooked in hopes of snagging scraps of commission, I’m sure.
As if he had heard the straggling ends of my thoughts, the funeral director pipes up. “I will leave you with Andy to go over the details of mom’s cemetery arrangements while I get these documents in order,” he says.
His presumption offends me—I dislike how he refers to her as “mom,” as if she was his mother. Or our mother.
“Thank you,” I say, slathering my disdain for him in politesse.
He squeezes my shoulder with his sandpaper hand on his way out the door. I know he means to comfort me, but the scratch of his touch makes me cringe.
Neither the funeral director nor Andy notices my facial transgressions. Andy doesn’t look at me again until he has pulled a portfolio with all of Mother’s details from his briefcase.
“Everything should be in order,” I say.
“Why don’t we go through it together to make sure,” says Andy.
My lips purse on their own as I reluctantly nod in assent.
Everything is in order, as I had said. But there are still some choices to be made and displays to be shown. “The box she’ll be cremated in, for example, has not been selected,” Andy explains. And apparently, there are two options, given how Mother had set up her plan. Unless I want to upgrade, of course.
“If you come in with me to the next room, I can show you what I mean,” he says.
I follow him across the hall to the casket display room. There is a bed in the middle of the room; Andy anticipates my inquiry, explaining that some people like to have their deceased lay in a bed for the viewing rather than a casket because they feel that having their loved one presented in a more natural, less jarring state is more pleasant for the family.
“It’s kind of weird, if you ask me,” I say without thinking.
He shrugs, his hands shoved in his pockets, and says, “I dunno. It’s their funeral.” This makes me smile; I appreciate his subtle crudeness.
He gives me a little space as I look at the caskets, scanning the varying levels of sophistication in the carved wood and decorated metal and luxurious cushioned linings. I make my way down to the end of the aisle, towards the simple pine boxes, when I look back at Andy from the corner of my eye. I like the way the whites of his cuffs peek past the edge of his coat sleeves.
In the wake of Mother’s passing, I have not really allowed myself the opportunity to fully… release, if you will. In any sense of the word. For the sake of everyone involved, I have remained stoic through the proceedings following the blip on her screen finally going limp. Dealing with medical professionals and coroners and the array of people from the funeral home for everything from the body pickup at the hospital to funeral and cemetery detail; going down the list of friends and family to collect rote condolences; staying as calm as humanly possible amongst the kibitzing of the rest of the family; everyone has a fucking opinion. But I’m the one in charge because Mother declared it to be so, so I must hold strong until this solemn, necessary chore is carried out. Which could, in all likelihood, take months if not longer to sort out entirely. Funeral chapels and gravediggers and banks and lawyers and storage facilities and the taxman and…
Building a dam to keep anything of mine from bubbling over seemed like the most appropriate course of action to remain efficient through this whole process. And so far, it has served me as I had intended it to.
But now, in this moment, it seems that I have begun to falter in my mission to remain stalwart in the face of it all. In the private quiet of this dimly lit room, looking at this simple, horrid, perfectly adequate pine box, I feel that I have tipped right over into the swirl of the existential maelstrom whirling around me; my breath catches in my throat and my eyes gloss over with water and salt. I wipe the three rogue droplets away with the pad of my thumb as subtly as I can.
Andy seems to have noticed anyway. He stands beside me now with a box of kleenexes. He offers me the box with one hand without actually looking at me. I am grateful for the privacy he continues to afford me despite his proximity.
I steal another glance at him from the corner of my eye. Andy’s strong shoulders hold the frame of his suit jacket with the rigid symmetry of an angular metal hanger. He looks ahead, until I give him permission to come in closer.
I take his hand in mine. He responds so naturally, it’s as if he was expecting it. Just waiting for me to take up the space I was meant to fill. We stand, bound in silence, for an eternity or two. Hand in hand, we die a thousand times simply staring into the abyss of that garish, homely box.
“Thank you,” I whisper.
“Of course,” says Andy, still staring, unblinking at the empty pine casket, as if he too is wondering how Mother might look inside it.
His grip is strong, comforting, safe. We look at each other simultaneously.
I’m not ready to let go.
Andy is allowing me to be vulnerable. He opens himself to me when he opens his shoulders in my direction. Still holding his hand, I wrap myself around, into his midsection and press my cheek flush with his breastplate, damming my tears of my right eye at the ducts. The left flows freely down the slope of my exposed cheekbone.
The safety of his other hand rests assuredly between my shoulder blades. The threads of another thousand lives and deaths weave between us; this familiar stranger and me.
My now-inevitable release purrs louder somewhere in the sliver of shadow that still separates us.
He presses his open understanding back into me. I squeeze his knuckles between mine. He clenches the fabric at my back between his fingers. I press the flat of my palm to his chest. He releases my hand to catch the weight of my skull. I tug the bottom of his white dress shirt free from the belt holding him together at the center…
Wordless communication extended through hand signals.
He removes his suit jacket. I unbutton the bottom button. He starts at the top to meet me at the middle. I run my hands across his torso under the flaps of his shirt. I lift my own top off overhead, creating more room for my straining lungs to breathe.
His gaze holds me in this space. Inviting me; reminding me to be vulnerable.
My respiration levels and I step back into him. He holds me right where were before. Cheek to chest, hands holding hearts steady. My hand glides back down to his belt. I release the clasp and pull the button free. As I guide him to the “slumber bed,” he lets his pants fall around his ankles and he takes a seat. Legs dangling over the edge, feet planted on the ground. I hike my skirt up to my hips and mount him, straddling his lap like it’s a riding saddle.
I run my fingers between his shirt and his ribs, around to his back until they cross over to the other sides of his ribcage, and I hold him close, breathing in the musk of security. He sits firm between my legs as I close my eyes and rock into the comfort of the routine. His hands, barely touching my hips, follow me through the cycles.
As I grind my grief into him, his unwavering support pushes back up into me. I bury my face into the crook of his neck, damming my loosened ducts once again.
Andy tips me over on my side, inviting me to lay down on the bed. I feel compelled to turn away from him. On our sides, he envelopes me from behind. Snug as the linings in the caskets surrounding us. Parallel to me, his hand finds its way to my belly. He holds me in his palm, inviting me to breathe with him. He breathes in the weight of my worries from my hair and I exhale renewed trust in the process.
His hand drifts down the edge of my skirt, past the waistband, and again he holds me, mound to palm, fingers rested soft and still at my threshold; my pulse crashes down into them. One of Andy’s finger slides between my lips, cautious and careful. Sliding along the full length of me.
Air catches in my throat, and a single tear falls loose to the stiffened, starchy pillowcase. Because you don’t need to waste fabric softener on the dead, I guess.
With his nose still buried in my hair, Andy finds the aching bud and traces delicate circles around it; around my reluctance to let go. Two fingers rolling circles in tandem with the swirl of my hurricane; synchronizing to my chaotic rhythm, until he takes over.
Andy governs the sway of my storm now, shifting the seas entirely. Encouraging, forcing me to unleash, to release, to let go. I bite down on my bottom lip, stifling the roar of the winds howling from the stormy bowels of my grief. The runoff carves deep troughs over the bridge of my nose, down past my temple, pooling at the well of the pillow.
He slows his roll until he comes to a stop, and holds me still again, listening to the calming breeze—interrupted occasionally by a soft sniffle—that passes between us. His chest is warm on my back and I am grateful for the silence.
More by Queen Jayne:
The Birthday Bash
Comings and Goings
Diamonds and Pearls
The Edge of Glory
Expressions of Grief
For Dommestic Use Only
Strangers on a Train