The stained glass was dirty. The tiny chapel was cramped, filled with mismatched furnishings as if it had been supplied entirely from an ecclesiastical flea market. The sullen light let in by the grimy windows fit well with the somber service.
My father had many friends packed in the hard wooden pews. Neighbors who'd known him when he was this high came to share their condolences and gently estimate a return date for their prized Tupperware and Corning glass.
My mother sat in the last row, dressed in unrelieved black, clutching a dry hankie in her lap. I could not see her from my seat, but I knew where she would be. Rarely did the dictates of custom mean much to my mother, yet out of respect for those who mourned my father's passing, his estranged wife kept her place quietly at the back of the church.
Pastor Craig presided over the service in customary solemnity, his black robe not quite covering well-polished dress shoes that shone even in the dim light of the chapel.
I sat and stood, following the liturgy out of habit, scarcely noting the words. My mind didn't wander; I simply could take in no more. As we stood to sing the final hymn, I watched neighbors and sons of neighbors, six all together, step up to raise the casket and carry it down the narrow aisle.
My mind brightened at an unruly thought, "It's like a wedding, only in reverse."
I lowered my eyes as a small smile tugged on the corners of my lips. I let my mouth go slack. I was not ready for the return of feelings yet.
The graveside service was blessedly brief. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, my father's remains were lowered into the ground. I sighed, accepting the hugs, kisses, and awkward pats on the shoulder as everyone headed back into their everyday lives.
My mother stepped forward after the crowd had dispersed. She hugged me gently and rubbed one hand up and down my back as I rested my head against her strong, slight shoulder.
"Would you like coffee?" she asked me.
I shook my head, still leaning into her, breathing in the spicy scent of lavender and honey, the bath oil she had used since I was a child.
"Food?" she tried again.
"Sleep," I mumbled, raising my head to meet her eyes.
She nodded and led the way.
Back at my father's house, I sat in a high-backed chair, awed by the efficiency with which my mother arranged the sheets and pillows into a cozy nest for me to burrow. She kissed my forehead and left me alone in the dusky pink of the guest room.
I slept for minutes or hours, I wasn't sure. The room was dark, but I could hear the clinks and thunks of my mother baking. Though I'd barely made a dent in the neighborhood's casserole procession, she was making more.
"Is it any wonder," the irreverent thought refused to leave without expression, if just to myself, "there is an epidemic of obesity in this country when a whole generation was raised to process their grief with food?"
Copyright ©2008 by Amy James Gray. No part of this text may be copied or reprinted without the prior consent of the author.