Sarah stared at the open casket cradling her grandfather’s body and begged herself to feel something. Anything. The soft white tufts of hair sticking out around his face, the steep sudden slope of his nose—it should provoke something deep inside her, shouldn’t it? Something besides a slight dash of awkward, misplaced hope.
But no. Instead, it was as if someone had sliced her from chin to navel and scooped out all her emotions with a melon baller. She was hopeless.
Sarah’s mother slumped beside her on the hard, uncomfortable pew and sniffled when Pastor Mike did a reading from the book of Revelation. When he closed the Bible with a thud, she dabbed her face with a handkerchief that had seen better days.
Sarah lusted after her mother’s tears, but try as she might, she couldn’t force herself to join in. She couldn’t cry about this, even though she cried about other things, like episodes of America’s Next Top Model and the dopamine-enhancing quality of chocolate cake and the sweet oblivion of nothing at all. Why did those things deserve her tears, but not the decomposing flesh that used to be her grandfather? None of it made sense.
Pastor Mike recited a prayer, and then everyone rose to sing another hymn. This one had been her grandfather’s favorite. He’d belted it out in that booming, larger-than-life voice of his while roaming throughout the house at six a.m., oblivious to the fact that everyone else was fast asleep. Sarah mouthed along with the rest of the assembly, skimming over words like sweet and trust and promise.
Maybe she wasn’t sad when she looked at the casket because she knew he wasn’t really there anymore. When someone died, their soul was not destroyed forever, just transported somewhere far away. Somewhere better. And if she really believed this—which she did—there wasn’t really much to be upset about. So it was probably fine.
Everyone drifted down the aisles when the service concluded. Each step the group took was part of this intricate, foreign dance of grief to which they were slowly growing accustomed. They ate bad food even though they were not hungry, and they pretended it was all delicious, and once it was all gone they departed from the church on foot. They made their way through the woods to the cemetery, set back from the road atop a little hill.
Sarah tried to ignore her stilettos sinking into the moistened earth, but she was fixated by the ridiculous possibility of her heels inadvertently piercing a long-dead heart.
Everyone around her whispered as they walked up the hill. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” one of her uncles said, answered quickly by an aunt’s, “I wish he could have stayed longer.” And Sarah could not say what she wanted to say, which was something along the lines of, “I’m glad he’s dead because cancer sucks and he suffered for too damn long as it is.”
But no one wanted to hear that, even if it was true, so she kept her mouth shut.
Her little cousin Emery wailed when the casket was lowered into the ground, burying her face between her mother’s thighs. Incoherent cries for Grandpa to come out and play occasionally escaped the folds of the skirt she clung to. A few of the great-aunts and some of the old ladies from Grandpa’s Sunday school class covered their mouths and looked away when the dirt began to tumble down harder, faster. Sarah wondered if this was because they knew they were probably next. Everyone except her started to cry again.
Should it bother her that death . . . didn’t bother her? For what it was worth, she wished it did. She wished she could cry alongside everyone else, cry until her head hurt and her nose hurt and sickness rose up from her belly. But if she was being honest with herself—and she had to be honest with herself—she just wanted to get past all this. She wanted to put her grandfather in the ground and go home and take off these stupid nylons and order a pizza and watch the new zombie movie in her online streaming queue.
Or something like that, she thought while darting a nervous glance over her shoulder, as if anyone could have heard her thoughts. Or something like that.