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I remember looking at my mother, the woman who usually shows so much calm and patience, now flying from one room to the next with that disgruntled expression of being overwhelmed on her face as she tried to accomplish as many tasks as she could a minute. She was doing her hair, changing her clothes, sweeping the kitchen, vacuuming the living room, making breakfast, eating, brushing her teeth; all of which she tackled like an expert with the years of experience she had accumulated as a housewife. If I hadnít known that this day was a particularly difficult one for her, I wouldnít have thought too much about it other than her being overly energetic. However, I knew that all these things she was doing werenít really being acknowledged by her mind; all she was thinking about were those memories and thoughts that flood your consciousness when anyone close to you passes away.
The car ride from my house to the funeral home may have been the longest time I have ever stared at my parents and wondered what they were thinking. My father said nothing, but merely performed the actions a driver must perform to get from one location to another. It was strange for me, looking at him as he drove, to place myself in his shoes. It was my motherís father who had passed away, and since my father was of no blood relation, he had no childhood memories to reflect on, and no real close connection that I was ever aware of with his elder. I struggled with his reasons for being as sad as he clearly was. Many possibilities went through my head; he may not have grown up with my grandfather and formed those precious memories which my mother was undoubtedly reliving during this car ride, but he had known this man for much longer than I had been alive, which is beyond me, since I am not sure what kind of bond can be formed after thirty years of knowing someone. Even if it wasnít this, he could just love the man for having such a wonderful daughter and allowing my parents to meet and spend their lives together. It wasnít until later in the day after everything had taken place that I realized the truth.
As we arrived at the funeral home, I saw all the people who had come together, and my focus was dragged down from the bigger picture for the moment. I began doing what most people and especially teenagers do: I was suddenly conscious of myself again and how I looked. Itís so sad how even at a funeral I was worried about my appearance, but I guess itís a part of life, and it didnít take long for me to lose my small mind once again. As I walked into the building and I came into the room containing my grandfatherís body; several flowers and pictures were arranged around the body at rest, and all the people, from my three year old nephews to my seventy-seven year old great aunt, had congregated to see him off to the next life. I felt as though I had been violently hurled into the heavens, and once I caught my breath, I began to observe the world from my loftier, celestial view point.
As I walked about the room, I most certainly wasnít happy, at least not in a jovial sense where I was running around, telling jokes and being idiotic, but I wasnít sad either. I was dumbstruck by the humbling effect that death has on us, but decided not to ponder on it at the moment, because something hit me then that led to my later understanding of the truth. I took a seat along the back wall facing the open casket holding the empty shell that had once sat me on his lap and held me like a grandfather should hold a grandson, and I observed everything there was to be seen. As I sat pensively watching, all my relatives and friends of the family were standing in the middle of the room between the seat that I had occupied and the eternal bed of my forefather, which I could only catch an occasional glimpse of through the mourners. I noticed, to some surprise at first, that many of the people werenít mourning, or at least not as I had pictured they would be, but were laughing and smiling. I watched as my uncles reminisced about old memories and expressed amusement, and I watched as my mother socialized with the different kin and friends who had come to pay their respects, and she was in good spirits. I wasnít one to judge, but something seemed odd about these happy faces all standing, in my mind, back-to the casket where the currently transcending individual rested, and I was confused. But, slowly, things began to connect.
About six months prior to the day at the funeral home, I was sitting in that exact same place, looking at that exact same spot, with those same flowers, and instead of my grandfather lying there, it had been his wife; that funeral had been a completely different scene. There were no laughs, except the sporadic one forced through the tears at a reference to a humorous memory. The same people were at both, but they werenít the same people. At my grandmotherís funeral, the tears were relentless, the tissues were abundant, and I had witnessed so many unhappy faces from the moment I woke up until the moment we all slowly walked back to our cars to leave the graveyard. I wanted to know why the father of my mother wasnít worthy of the same tears that my grandmother had been given, and I suddenly realized how badly misconstrued my views were. It had nothing to do with one being more worthy than the other, but more that she had died first. In her funeral, we had all come together with my grandfather to say goodbye to the person we love, and it was so melancholy and depressing of a situation, because we all knew that my grandfather was now alone; we knew that she was gone from us, but mostly from him, because he had just lost his life partner who had been there nearly every day for the past fifty years, and now they had finally been separated by the one thing that will never cease to separate us all. So, when I thought with more depth than previously, I knew that the tears for both were shed the day we buried my grandmother, and that the day we buried her husband was a day of rejoicing; they were together again.
The funeral party proceeded from the home following the hearse all the way to the church, where the last words from different members of the family were said, and closure was at last made. We all left the place of worship, and followed the same vehicle to the final resting place, which so ironically symbolized us moving towards death, all together, some before others; I once again was up in the heavens looking down on all of us.
As we drove, I was given an answer to a question which I had been asking myself since I first saw the planes fly into the World Trade Center. I wanted to know why it was only after 9/11 that the intensity of unrest towards such ridiculous and atrocious loss of life increased, and not before. It occurred to me that we hadnít been very sympathetic or compassionate, at least not aggressively, towards the Middle East, and the reason for this, which dawned on me then as I stared into space from the backseat of the car, was that we had been so indifferent because we preferred our ignorance. We didnít like to think about the problems of the world, and isnít that the goal that most humans aim to accomplish? We want to be so involved with our everyday social interactions and smaller issues that we never have to think about fatality and what comes after our deaths. But, on the brighter side, our inevitable demise gives us more reason to be thankful for our fleeting existence.
On our way to the graveyard, I was thunderstruck by how humbling death can be, and as I gazed out the window, I had that unexpected thankfulness, not that I was alive, but that I was human; that I was mortal. Even God is unable to appreciate everything as we do, because every single breath could be our last, and as a result, all things from the most picturesque scenery, to the lilac flower we see on the side of the road, to the cumulus clouds floating overhead occasionally making recognizable shapes, are that much more beautiful. When the body was being lowered into the ground, and I looked around to all those faces which had earlier shown smiles at the deceased being reunited and they were once again red and weeping. But, they were no longer weeping for the loss of their friend, father, and grandfather; they were again aware of their mortality and were lamenting for themselves. Funerals are not for the dead; they are for the living.