Mommy told me what a funeral was, but I don’t think that I get it. She told me that Grandpa is taking a really long sleep and we need to say our goodbyes to him. If that’s true, then why are having a whole day for him? And why is everyone so sad if he’s sleeping? I sleep a lot too; I’ve never seen anybody cry about it though. And I’ve definitely never had anyone say goodbye to me first.
Grandma is especially upset. She’s got black streaks all down her face and she keeps hugging me for some reason, telling me that it’ll all be okay. Why wouldn’t it be? I was supposed to have a baseball game today, but Mommy made me come to this fancy quiet place instead. I’m not sad that Grandpa is sleeping. Why should I have to spend my Saturday in an itchy black suit when I could be playing with all my friends? I hate this stupid sleeping party.
Grandpa is taking his nap right in front of us and we all have to stand in a big long line and say our ‘goodbyes’. He’s not even in his pajamas. He’s wearing an itchy black suit too! I don’t know why he thought that would be comfy, especially if it’s as long of a nap as everyone is making it out to be.
Every time I ask Mommy why we need to say goodbye in the first place, she gets mad at me. She tells me that I’m asking too many questions and to just hush up before I make Grandma upset again. Mommy doesn’t usually yell at me. I want to ask more questions, but I don’t like it when she gets mad.
I told her that I’m confused, though. Sleeping isn’t fun, but we all do it. What’s the big deal? She told me that this sleep was different and that I’m not gonna see Grandpa anymore. I told her that I can see him right now! I asked her if he was playing a prank on me. Sometimes Grandpa does silly things to make me laugh. Is this one of his jokes?
Mommy bent down so that our faces were really close together and she gripped the back of my arms so tight that it almost hurt.
“Benny, you need to listen to me. Keep your questions to yourself, just for right now. This is a really big deal and Mommy needs to focus. I can’t keep reminding you to hush. Go sit in the front row over there, in the chair that has your name on it. Can you do that?”
I nodded and ran to my seat. Not because I was scared, but because I wanted to practice running so I could tell my coach that I wasn’t being lazy all day when I was supposed to be at the game. When I sat down I kicked my legs back and forth as hard and fast as I could. I pretended that I just hit a homerun and I was speeding through the bases faster than anyone ever has before. I pretended that the crowd was going wild! They were yelling my name and clapping, and I knew for sure that I was gonna be in the major league one day.
“Thank you all for coming,” Mommy stood in front of grandpa in a really pretty black dress. She had a wad of tissues in her hand. “If you all could say a quick goodbye to Dad and make your way to your seats, please.” Her voice got all scratchy at the end. The line in front of grandpa got shorter and shorter, but it took a really long time. Grandma sat next to me, blowing her nose into a tissue as she sat down. I didn’t want her to get any snot on me so I scooted my seat closer to the empty chair to my left. That’s where Mommy is gonna sit.
“I’m here in front of you all today on behalf of my mother. She asked me to speak for her because she wouldn’t be able to make it through without getting emotional. I can’t make any promises to that either, but I would do anything my parents asked of me. Mom, this is for you.” Mommy put her hand out to Grandma. They held hands and Grandma burst into more tears. Mommy cried too, but just from her eyes. She wasn’t sniffling or anything like Grandma was.
“As all of you know, my dad was the hardest working man in town. And if you asked him, he was the hardest working man in the union.” Some old man laughed in the back. I turned in my seat to look at him, but Grandma put her hand on my shoulder to stop me. I hope it wasn’t her snot hand.
“When the doctors found the cancer, it was in his bladder. They told us that it was pretty common in men Dad’s age, and that they caught it pretty early. They said that there was no real cause for concern. We were one of the luckier families. And so we continued to live our lives, but the disease was always in the back of our minds.
“He underwent the surgery over five years ago, and back then we were filled with hope. Again, we caught it early. He got regular checkups, probably more regular than he would’ve liked,” My aunts and uncles nodded when mommy said that. My Aunt Marge even laughed a little bit out of her nose. “And they always told us the same thing. ‘The cancer is still gone. It hasn’t come back.’ And we believed.
“But, in truth, the cancer had come back. It just wasn’t in his bladder. It was in his lungs.” Mommy held one of her hands over her mouth and bent over a little. Now she was sniffling just like Grandma. The whole room got really quiet, except for people gasping and blowing their noses.
“Daddy was always a smoker, and none of us ever liked it, but what can you do? You can only make a stubborn man change so much, and if he doesn’t want to give up one of his vices, there’s no way to make him do it.
“They hadn’t caught this one so early. The doctors did what they could, but they weren’t ahead of the disease anymore. They were always one step behind. It spread.” Mommy’s eyes were shiny. I remember hearing people say ‘cancer’, but nobody ever told me what it was. I even asked. They told me I was too young to know. I wonder when I’m going to be old enough to know things.
“Daddy was tenacious, but things happened pretty quickly. The sprite, energetic man I’ve known for my whole life was reduced to someone I didn’t recognize anymore. Please, to everyone here, I ask you not to remember my father the way he was these past few months. Remember him for who he used to be. Remember the hard ass old man that had the same pair of broken glasses for fifteen years, because they still worked ‘just fine’ even though they had tape around the middle and one arm was shorter than the other. Remember the man who still swore by handkerchiefs, even though they’re objectively gross and Mama hated washing them. She wouldn’t even touch them; she’d use tongs to put them in the washer.” Mommy laughed, and so did all the other grown-ups. I laughed too, even though I don’t know what a handkerchief is.
“Remember the man who loved his family and friends, and cherished us above all. A week didn’t go by where I didn’t call him or he didn’t call me. And at the end of every conversation he’d always say, ‘Remember who raised you. And if the cops ask, be sure to tell them it wasn’t me.’” Mommy sat down next to me, and everyone in the room was clapping and crying, which, if you ask me, is a pretty strange combination of things to do. Grandma leaned over me and squeezed mommy’s shoulders. She mouthed the words, ‘thank you.’
“I just can’t believe he’s gone,” my Aunt Marge was hiccuping and held her head in her hands. “My father is dead. Oh my god, Daddy is dead.” She wasn’t talking to anybody in particular, but I heard. Mommy didn’t even notice. Somebody that I never saw before was talking to her and crying. Mommy was nodding at them and holding their hand.
Was grandpa really dead? Mommy specifically told me that he was sleeping. I remember her saying that a bunch. She wouldn’t lie to me, right? She told me that lying was bad, and it’ll get you grounded.
It all makes sense though! That’s why everyone is so sad. I know what dying means. My dog did that last month. Mommy told me that he was sleeping then too, but I saw him run out into the road. I saw what happened then, and I’m seeing what’s happening now. Grandpa is dead. Grandpa is dead, and Mommy lied to me.