Friday, December 12, 2014

Nine Days Difference

An essay by Ally Jensen

Two funerals, nine days, and a lifetime of changes.

The sun shined down on our youthful faces as we played in the open field.

“Red rover, red rover” We called, making the request for the next friend to run across the open distance and fling themselves upon our clasped hands in the hopes of breaking through the connection. Shrieks of joy and cries of encouragement filled the open air. Thistles coated my socks by the time my sister came to collect me.

“It’s time to start,” she told me softly. Sensing her somber tone, I followed her into the funeral home to say our final farewells to my grandmother. It was dark and uncomfortable in the old musty building. It smelled like death, but at the time I could only relate the scent to moth balls, and the floral arrangements did little to mask the scent.

My feet scraped lightly on the ground as I swung my legs back and forth carelessly. My family all sat on the same pew, me sandwiched in between my older sister and my father. My dad’s hand settled on my knee, a silent reminder to be patient until the very end. Obediently, I stopped swinging my legs and instead focused on looking at the people around me.

Most of them I had never met before and I found them interesting to look at. There was a lady in the back wearing the most absurd hat and a man in the row opposite of us wearing one of those silly ties they wear in the western shows my dad watched sometimes. Returning my attention back to the front, I curiously looked at the coffin where my grandmother lay. She looked just like always, old, wrinkly, and grumpy.

The goodbye to my grandmother was simple. By the time I was old enough to remember her she had already lost her mind. The few times we spent together consisted of repeating the same conversation over and over for hours. I did not feel a great loss at her departure from this earth and the moment the service was over I joined the flock of children playing in the field once again.

Fast forward to nine days later.

Again we gathered as a family, but this time to say goodbye to my dad. His death was unexpected and startling to all who knew him; a heart attack that came out of nowhere.

 It had only been two weeks since my grandmother’s funeral, but somewhere in that time I had matured from my childish ten-year-old self into a young adult who was lost in a sea of grief. Thrust into this world that was cruel and terrifying, I refused to be left alone.

The children called to me, their voices which seemed so tempting two weeks before, held no appeal for me now. I would not leave the comfort of those closest to me.

Although I felt completely lost, we were not alone. I can hear the voices of the congregation singing, the stake center chapel and cultural hall both filled to the brim with people coming to mourn with those who mourn.

The melody flowed over me, consuming every facet of my mind.

God be with you till we meet again

The words were too difficult for me to get out. Emotions overwhelmed me and I wept for the loss of the man who was my best friend. I wept for the movie nights that would never happen, the shows that would remain unwatched, and the popcorn I would have to eat alone. I wept because I would no longer get pushed on the swing, ride the giant lawnmower, or play baseball in the front yard. I wept because I was alone. No longer would I be able to help my dad in the garden, or come home to see a homemade movie ticket taped to the door, just for me. No more early morning cuddles before the sun was up, no more hugs before bed, no more saying I love you in sign language. No more inside jokes, no more helping with my homework, no more doodles in church. Some of these activities would be filled with other people, but it was the end of my time with him…and that thought broke me.

Words came from those who gathered, many with tears streaming down their faces as they hugged me and whispered in my ear: “Everything will be okay.”

I didn’t believe them.

Their words of comfort held the opposite effect on me. Instead of feeling relief I felt distress. How on earth was this person able to understand what I was feeling and then on top of that believe that it was going to be okay? They lost a friend but I had lost much more than that.

They didn’t understand.

How could they? I was there when he died. I saw his body before the paramedics were there, before everyone tried to shelter me from death. I tried to save him…but it wasn’t enough. How could these people who were practically strangers to me understand the intense bitter sorrow that I felt at the tender age of ten? How could they know, if I couldn’t even understand it myself?

My best friend came over a couple days before the funeral. She brought a little game that I was extremely fond of playing when I went to her house and told me “you can borrow it until you feel better.”

I was angry.

How could she pretend that this immature game would help me feel better? My dad was dead. Dead. As in not coming back, six feet under, stone cold dead. And a game is supposed to make me feel better? Yeah, right. I accepted it graciously, then promptly put it on a high shelf where it would remain until she came to pick it up. They say it’s the thought that counts, but it often doesn’t help.

I cried. A lot.

It was overcast but warm as we gathered at the gravesite after the funeral service and again the familiar tune was played.

God be with you till we meet again

Never before had I understood the sorrow that Moroni must have felt when his people and his family were destroyed in the Book of Mormon. Loneliness consumed my entire being and I didn’t understand why good people must die before their time.

Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet,
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

These words that we were singing as a final farewell to my father were not meant to come from us but to comfort us.

I heard them as from the voice of my dad, comforting me once more even though he was already gone.

God be with you till we meet again
When life’s perils thick confound you
Put his arms unfailing round you
God be with you till we meet again

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