One thing everyone knows about grief is the heavy feeling it leaves when a heart first breaks. The questions that go unanswered, the last goodbyes or even the moment you never got to say goodbye. Grief is heavy like an elephant sitting on your chest daring you to move. No matter the tears shed, the grief behind a devastating event still sticks around.
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Krista wrote in her notebook. She examined the words and slowly drew each letter to perfection. She focused on the fine details. The curves, the crosses, the dots. Everything in that moment was more important than facing what was on the other side of her mind. She couldn’t confront that her Grandmother was no longer there to give her hugs or make her homemade chicken noodle soup. She ignored the images that shoved their way into her mind from time to time. She didn’t want to face that pain. Didn’t want to confront the fact that she never got to say goodbye. Even if she had to do it today.
Krista heard her mother call out to her. Softly, but authoritative. She had no choice but to go. Krista stood, smoothed her black dress and slipped into her plain black shoes. She glanced at her fluffy hair and twisted her bow. Everything had to be perfect.
She stepped down the stairs, greeted her mother with a small, guarded smile, and they exited the house. People, mostly family, lined the streets in their respective cars. They had all made it their mission to drive to the church together in solidarity. Krista didn’t understand the importance in it but sat back and listened to the ideas being thrown out. She knew her grandmother was the glue of the family and assumed it was what she wanted.
Her eyes gazed out the window fixated on the clouds. The fluffy masses floating mindlessly with no goal. She felt that nagging pull of grief tugging inside of her. She shoved it back down by humming a song. A song her and her grandmother sang all the time. Her mind reminded her, as it did since that day, and she stopped. She dug her teeth into her lips fighting the tears that threatened her eyes.
“It’s okay to let it out, baby.” Her mother cooed from the passenger seat. Her eyes already moist from her silent tears. Krista looked away immediately. Her mother’s sadness had started to pry at the door she didn’t want open.
Yet again, Krista focused on the sky. The bright blue with the ball of bright light betraying the inner turmoil that shook within Krista. She needed to do something, anything to keep her mind from pulling her back down. But, the image of her grandmother sleeping, at least she thought her Grandmother was sleeping, popped into her mind. Krista flinched because that was the day she found her grandmother dead. She rubbed her eyes harshly, smearing mascara and eyeliner on to her cheek. Great. She wiped violently at it until she felt that it may be gone. As her eyes diverted back to the window, the Church came into view.
It was a small building, but big enough for her family. Bricks surrounded the mass and the roof stood proud. Krista had remembered her mother telling her about the renovations they did on the inside weeks before her Grandmother had passed. Her grandmother had rallied for those changes. But Krista didn’t want to go to church the day those renovations were completed. She played sick that day and her grandmother scolded her for it before kissing her forehead and pulling her close. Her grandmother understood. She knew that Krista was unsure about the teachings of the Bible and accepted the differences. It didn’t mean she liked it, though.
Krista and her parents stepped out of the car. Mingling in with the family, they each entered the building which smelled like wood polish and something musky.
‘Must be the carpets,’ Krista thought.
She found a pew, and eased her body on to the glossy, smoothed wood. She adjust her dress before playing with the hem. Her grandmothers casket sitting in front of the room. Pictures of her smiling beautifully back. Krista didn’t look. She couldn’t. Krista’s father eased in beside her. Grasping her hand tightly in his large, hairier one. He didn’t say a word. He normally didn’t have to. Krista squeezed it. Their secret sign for saying “I’m holding on, “ but at this point, Krista was barely holding on.
The service started. Wails of broken family members penetrated Krista’s ears and she would give her dad’s hand a squeeze periodically. He would squeeze back. “I’m here.” The squeeze relayed each time. It anchored Krista in her seat in the back. She thought about needing to see her grandmother. Kissing her plump cheeks one more time and how she missed the opportunity. She looked up panicked. The casket was closed, being wheeled out as everyone filed out of the pews misty eyed. It was that moment that Krista broke. She screamed, reaching out for her grandmothers casket. Tears rushed down her face as her dad rushed to her side. She had managed to break through the crowd, but she didn’t make it to the casket. It had already gone. Krista reached and fought her uncles firm grasps. She begged and pleaded for her grandmother, then broke into sobs. Her body shattering like broken glass.
Strong arms encircle her, and a soft, feminine voice cooed. She buried her face in her dad’s chest as her mother stroked her hair. Both fighting back tears. They held her for what felt like hours until the sobbing bubbled down to whimpers, then down to coos. By then, the church had been emptied. The cars had gone to the graveyard.
“It’s okay to let go.” Her father reassured her.
“I wanted to say goodbye. I don’t know why I didn’t. I just wanted say goodbye.” Krista’s voice broke.
Her parents looked at her in broken silence. She looked at them, but then behind them. Her grandmothers picture smiled back at her.
“I just wanted to say goodbye.” Krista murmurs before breaking into a fit of sobs. Images of her grandmother replaying endlessly with each breath.
She managed to compose herself, grasping her parents hands and walking out to the car. The drive to the graveyard was silent, deafening silent. Krista wiped at her eyes before catching her mothers.
“Will they… let me see her?” She asks.
Her mother chewed on her lip before shaking her head. A tear rolls down her cheek.
“Because it’s time to put her body to rest.” Her mother answered softly. Her hand caressing Krista’s leg before reaching for her hand.
“But I’ll never get to see her again…”
Her mother watched her unable to help. Her eyes showing how stuck she was because she couldn’t help her daughter. She dabbed at her nose with tissue. Still holding on to her daughter’s leg.
“You can place a rose on her casket.” Her mother suggested.
“That would be a good idea.” Her father suggested.
“But I want to kiss her one last time.” Krista whined.
“I know, baby. I know.” Her mother cooed as she watched Krista’s eyes water.
The car slowed to a stop. The gravel crunched beneath the car. Krista slides out of the backseat and enclosed her hand around her mother’s. They walked to the tent, which was now empty, towards the hole in the ground. The smell of earth sent chills down Krista’s spine. She could almost taste the soil in her mouth, but the bitter taste of grief powered through.
Krista stood by the grave as her father hands her a rose. She looked down at the white casket her grandmother’s body rests in. Why couldn’t they have cremated her, so Krista had something more monumental than headstone to visit?
“Grandma,” She started hesitantly, “I’ll miss the times I got to visit. And I’ll always remember the day you came to live with us. You were my best friend.” Krista voiced.
Tears rolled down her cheek one after the other like raindrops on a window. She sniffed. She opened her mouth to say more, but snapped it shut. The tears were more rapid. Her parents, standing on either side of her, placed their hands on her shoulder each giving her a gentle squeeze.
“I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye.” She whimpered. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I loved you one last time.”
She clenched the rose tightly in her hands. The wind pushed at her gently, almost like someone tugging her. It was warm, like an embrace and she remembered something her grandmother use to tell her.
“When the wind blows and it’s warm, I liked to think it’s your grandpa hugging me. When raindrops are warm, I like to think it’s him giving me a gentle kiss. And that’s how I manage to make it through without him.” Her grandmother once informed her during one of their evenings together.
The warm breeze blew past her again and a tiny, warm raindrop plopped on her cheek. She smiled to herself and released the rose onto her grandmothers casket. She watched as it landed on the sleek box. Her eyes watched as the raindrops plopped down on it, too. She stood, looked out at the graveyard and saw a red cardinal looking at her.
“You know,” Her mother started. “They say that cardinals are someone you love coming to visit.”
Krista sighed and this time she let go. She allowed her mind to think of her grandmother, to grieve the loss of a beautiful soul. She let go of whatever she held onto in the car. The feelings of having to control the process, the feeling of needing to bury it. Even though it didn’t shake the heavy feeling that grief left her, she accepted that it was a part of life. Not because of the warm wind and raindrops, or the cardinal, but because behind that cardinal stood her grandmother blowing her a kiss before vanishing when the wind blew.