By Tiffany Clark
I didn’t recognize you as you laid numb in your eternal bed. Your eyes were closed, your hair short and blond. I laughed to myself, you were wearing your favorite red dress that late Grandpa got for you on your cruise. The very cruise that you and Grandpa said that you would never board. Ten years is how long you were apart from Grandpa. Every day was torture for you until last week, Tuesday, when you passed away in a dreamy sleep. Upon seeing your soul mate, you punched him in the arm with teary eyes and then embraced him with loving hugs and kisses. Now your souls fly on the wings of cardinals, past the atmosphere and into space where you circle around each other like bright binary stars.
I watched as my family and family friends shed tears at the sight of you, but although you are forever silent. Your nine children, thirty-two grandchildren, and thirty-five great grandchildren sit around giving out “love you,” reminiscing about memories, and talking about life. It’s hard to count the number of friends who walked into the room of your wake, as the respect is infinite. You almost show a small smile like this is what you wanted your sendoff to be like.
I sit in a dark room; watching a movie about a character struggling through life as it reflects back onto me. I feel like I spent the whole day in that funeral home watching a stranger sleep who didn’t look at all like my Grandma. I feel lost without you.
I meant to write to you a long time ago to thank you for all of things you have done for me, but all I was able to do was bow my head and say a prayer. I wonder if you and Grandpa are above the clouds living trouble less lives. Sometimes I’m drawn to the eternal peace with a selfish mind. I often wonder if I should continue studying this toxic environment when all I learn about is the evil humanity has done to itself, it’s earth, and our fellow species. Our solutions are simple and ineffective and “environmentalist” are to blame for shouting at youth who are locked away in their cell phones. I’ve enjoyed working for New York State Parks and Recreation, but I understand that in the web of environmental science, my career desires are the humble and naive primary consumer while wildlife technicians, chemists, and GIS positions are the tertiary Kings and Queens.
It’s hard to have hope for the future when a governmental dictator would ignore the United Nations concerns; strip apart the Environmental Protection Agency, disrespecting the air we breathe and the 2/3 of fresh water which we drain; even denying the existence of the word “science” which entails more than the environment. Still, Grandma, you were the one who encouraged me to go to Paul Smith’s college and I thank you for all the times you told me to cut the sob story because I also found a psychological escape. For as much as I like my privacy, when I’m on my own I consume my mind with judgmental thoughts. When I came to this campus, I felt more comfortable around people but no one can guarantee a friendship that last past school.
Sometimes, I feel that there were remnants of a desire to work for Parks from the memories we made. Some of the best that I’ve had are ones of the farm house. Going canoeing with Grandpa on the large pond and helping him feed the birds. Having sleepovers with my cousin at the house on weekends and playing story time, running around the yard, and breaking the two-person swing. I remember finding a huge jar of sugar behind the couch, how you’d make us Mickey Mouse pancakes in the morning, and how you’d let us drink ice tea before bed. I was blessed to have such loving grandparents.
After grandpa died there was no one who could replace a husband, and friend, who had a song for everyone in his family. After some years along came a curly haired poodle mix, named Scooter. That dog never left my grandmother’s side and would throw a childish fit when she left to run an errand or go out with a friend. He loved his toys and insisted that she’d play, barking if she didn’t. He’d leap up, like a cat, onto the back of the old couch and constantly lick my Grandma’s hands and arms, no matter how many times she’d laugh and push him away, saying “Scooter.” Whenever she’d lay down, Scooter was there beside her right up until she took her last breath. I always felt like Grandpa had sent Scooter from heaven to be with my Grandma until the moment that her soul left.
I sat on my bed and teared up. I had a pale blouse on and wore a dark skirt with woven flowers. I wore only concealer, like that would last past the tears. I didn’t feel right dressing up, your dead and gone, the church services and goodbyes were only an assurance to the ones who would sit there on the stiff benches, listening to the mournful songs with tissues locked in their hands. I didn’t want to feel “pretty,” it wasn’t right. I managed to wipe the tears from my cheeks and go downstairs. My father tried to comfort me but I ignored his love like he had ignored me in the past years, that you were still there to console us. I’ll that I could hope was that you and Grandpa were together in a world far beyond me.
Of course it was raining when we left the funeral home; it was slightly amusing because of you we were able to run the red lights. I remember our phone call, you told me that you had never gotten your license because you found it such a pain to turn right at red lights. It was a short distance to the church and as we got out of the car and walked towards the doors, all we heard was the dark gongs of the church bells in between our own footsteps. I clutched my mother’s hand as we followed the standard procedures of the mass; I knew she’d never recover from losing both her parents, so I hid my tears as she shed hers. Mom never got the chance to say goodbye to you in Florida. I could feel myself losing as I looked at the casket, I wiped puddles from my eyes but I told myself that I wouldn’t break down when my family stood on. I think Grandma wouldn’t want us to fall to our knees in a flood of tears. My cousins, aunt, and uncle enforced that as they gave their speeches.
When it came time for my uncle to talk, most of us had settled down. I sat there holding my mother’s hand for as long as she needed it. You’d be proud of how he told your story and I know in my heart that every word was true. He talked about how you served your society as a kind and generous nurse. I never knew that you had been head of your field, only that the transportation to your college was far and like so many students you had a professor who was as hot headed as they come. He mentioned the large family that you had opened your heart to, including our dear old uncle, great, and great great uncle Scooter. He made a joke about how he feared Scooter would inherit everything. Which the Priest jokingly said that he would afterwards. I wasn’t wearing the right kind of shoes as I stepped out of the car and into one of the many puddles at the swamped graveyard. We walked to another church to hear the rest of your send off before driving right up to your burial site. They laid you down beside Grandpa, as mom commented, “I hope that pile of dirt is not on Grandpa’s grave.” I was a bit amused, not that it would matter; you and Grandpa were already at rest and together in the Kingdom above the clouds. Each family member took a gladiola from a glass vase and walked it over to drop it onto your casket already in the ground. I felt a sense of comfort, your body was no longer divided by pain and finally you were with your eternal lover.
After the ceremony was done, our family drove to lunch. The restaurant overlooked the Niagara river. I joke at the table, saying that you had paid for our lunch, remembering the times that we ate together at the Silo and how you loved their sweet potato fries.
I laid on my side in bed and dripped tears from my eyes until my mother joined me closing the door behind her. “How can I know if her and Grandpa are together if I can’t see Grandma’s spirit. What if there’s nothing there for us after we struggle through life,” I whined through broken words. My mother told me that she had to believe that Grandpa and Grandma were together. She gave me the laminated card with Grandma’s picture and told me to hold it by my heart so it would hurt to fall asleep. She stroked my arm and said “We’ll be okay.”
Tiffany E.M. Clark is a Natural Resources and Conservation Management major from Ransomville, N.Y. Aside from writing poetry and stories, she has worked with New York State Parks and Recreation and Historical Preservation during the past years. She believes that educating the public about nature and historical areas, produces a beneficial social medium, which welcomes individuals to a universal nature.