Friday, June 16, 2006

The View from Here

I don’t know what to do with my hands.

When I’m standing alone, my hands go from my behind my back to crossed arms. Nothing feels comfortable.

When I’m standing next to someone, I’m even more lost. I want to hug everyone, but I want to give space. Maybe a hand on the shoulder, or the back, a “you’re not alone hand.” Nothing feels right.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been here a while. Some of us came early, to make sure that everything was okay, that we could look.

I’ve only left the room once. The muzak was playing Barbara Streisand; we all figured Chris would be getting irritated, so I left to ask the director if he had any country. He went off to look for some Toby Keith.

We were here just long enough to start to get used to being in the room, to keep from jumping each time our eyes catch the box, when the rest of the family arrives.

The air becomes thin, like in Colorado at the top of those hikes. I think about breathing. In, and out.

As the cluster enters, Mom and Dad are drawn against their will forward, unable to resist the draw, unable to move forward naturally. Everyone else scatters in singles or pairs, pushing out against the interior walls of the room, fragments pushing against the center of the bomb blast.

I don’t know what to do. There is nothing to do, really, but I need something to focus on.

I watch my Mom’s knees, ready to jump in if they buckle. They don’t buckle. She has born the weight of twelve childbirths. She will bear this weight.

She won’t bear it easily; she won’t bear it gently; she won’t bear it willingly. But she will bear it.

Dad has his own job; to be the weight-bearing rock. No, not the rock, the buoy. Drifting, barely able to keep above the waves due to his own burden – but afloat and holding a beacon.

Mom brushes the hair from her son’s brow; she strokes his hands. She moans; she wishes she found his childhood blanket; he is so cold.

Eventually they are able to step back (but not away, only a few steps back).

The opening is filled as one by one, or two by two, each of us moves forward, then back. We collectively, individually whisper what we have to say.

When Mary first came in, along with the advance group, she vocalized the same thought she had about Grandma. “That isn’t him.”

That thought is repeated by several of us. It isn’t him. He’s somewhere else.

Michelle slips a photograph between her brother’s arm and the cushion.

We all stand around in shock, or move to someone standing in shock. We check in; we make sure that anyone who needs someone has someone. Or at least we try to guess who needs what.

I am holding someone. Or someone is holding me. One of us is comforting the other, or we are both comforting, or we both are wishing there is comfort to be had.

I can’t breath. My throat hurts; all my tears struck in my trachea.

Ocassionally someone laughs. Not an inappropriate sound; there has been a lot of talk the past few days of Chris and Grandma and Saint Peter and pinochle. That may not be funny to your ears, but trust me, it is hilarious and fitting.

Somehow, we all know when it is time. We gather from our bomb-scattered radius, fragments drawn to the center. The parents, the original twelve – no, the remaining eleven - and the spouses, at least the ones that weren’t back watching the children.

And one baby; one sign of Spring.

We stand huddled. We look. We discuss Chris’ knife – he never goes anywhere without it. Until now.

Then Mom says, “Close it.”

We step back in unison. Greg or Matt goes to find the director. I can’t tell who, my eyes aren’t working as they should.

The director comes. He has a hand-crank, which he uses to lower Chris within the box.

He takes Michelle’s photo, and tucks it in Chris’ hands.

The new hat, the one that looks like the Toby Keith hat, gets moved from propped up in the corner. It now sits on his chest.

The draped fabric, the one chosen specifically because it matches exactly the color of my brother’s childhood blanket, the one my mother wanted to cover him with earlier, gets tucked into the box.

The cover is lowered. And locked.

And we can move to the next stage now. The shell that used to hold him has been properly placed within his final bed. In two days, we will put the shell that holds the shell into the ground.

Between now and then, we will look for the real him someplace other than in the shell.

And we will continue to say goodbye.

Just my thoughts,



Sarah said...

Our modern parting rituals seem a bit lame, don't they? I remember similar feelings from my father's death about 15 years ago.

My sympathies for you Sean. And blessings to you and your family in this time.

Megan (Shell's sister [in-law]; Bob's sister) said...

Hi Sean, From Phoenix, AZ,

What should I write? I can't remember if I met you August 19, 19-something-or-other... how long has my oldest brother been married? Reid's now 9; maybe 11, 12 years ago? Anyway... thank you for sharing your thoughts. My heart broke for Shell and Bobby and my nephews, and I wondered if Chris got to meet Adden? Such a joyful boy... and I cry as I type this because it's senseless and I don't like it and I miss my mom and I know Shell and Bobby miss her too. Thank you for the Toby Keith hat story, too. That one is Fun and Good. I'm glad Chris experienced it. I don't know any of TK's music but I know he and the Dixie Chicks were pissed off at each other. I don't know if I met Chris either... nor do I know if that matters. I'm just feel for you, your family, (which is, at least in part, I suppose, my family), and his children. Maybe some people are broken, and need to go Home sooner; maybe they cannot bear the ungoodness.

"I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are basically good at heart." -- Anne Frank

May peace fill your hearts.

Bright Blessings, Megan

Gaffney said...


Thank you for your kind words and heartfelt response. May peace be with you as well, dealing with your Mom's passing.

Bob and Michelle were doubly hit, going from burying Bob's mom to discovering that they now had to go and bury Michelle's brother.

Thank you again for your kind thoughts, and for mourning with our family, as we mourned with yours.


Sarah Stillion said...


I don't know how often you look at old blog entries for responses, but I hope this gets to you. I too lost a brother this June, a friend in April, May, August, and December plus my only living grandmother in October. Whether there is one loss or many it feels the same. We are happy knowing they are in a better place (hopefully), but sad to know we can never touch them again or be touched by them.
Memories play the sweet-happy, sad songs in our heads that sing our hearts to sleep over and over when lonliness knocks on it's door in the middle of the night. Jesus spreads a warm light in the midst of the black night to where we can clearly see our loved ones faces once again. What am I trying to say? I feel for you brother, and I hope you and your family are doing ok especially in this Christmas season.

Blessings to you,