I laughed at my grandpa’s funeral. As he was being lowered into the ground and placed next to family members that I didn’t know, I laughed. The groundskeeper climbed down, sidled up next to his casket, and I laughed. He had tools with him to seal up the crypt and bury earth. I would never see him again.
I looked at the groundskeeper, his brow furrowed, his face damp with sweat. He was focused, each movement precise, meticulous. He had done this before—many times, in fact. This was his job. How many bodies had he done this to? How many families had watched from the sidelines? How did this make him feel? He lined bricks against the casket and smoothed them over with cement. This was it. This was goodbye, forever.
I looked at my family. They were all riveted, glued. All their focus, all their energy, was on the groundskeeper. This was important. This was final. This meant something. A dad, a grandpa, a brother, a cousin, a father-in-law, an uncle, a husband, a lover—we were all losing someone we wouldn’t see again. People barely moved; no one made a sound. The earth was still, respectful.
I looked back at the groundskeeper. He was almost done. He was putting on the final touches. Everything had to be smooth, perfect. There wouldn’t be another chance. I looked at my family. I looked at the groundskeeper. Would we see him again? Would we thank him?
I overheard my uncle and aunt. They asked each other in whispers, Do we tip him? And that’s when I laughed.
Why were they thinking that? Your dad is being buried and you’re thinking, do we tip him? Your dad is being buried, and you’re thinking manners, being polite. Your dad is being buried and you’re thinking money and how much. Your dad is being buried. Your dad is dead. Your dad is gone. But do we tip him? I laughed.
I looked at my uncle and thought, you are thinking about yourself, and then I thought, I did the same thing, and mine was worse.
Four days prior to the funeral, before I laughed, before my grandpa was buried, before my uncle worried about a tip, I was at work. It was a normal day, nothing too difficult, nothing too memorable. We served, we flirted, we joked. My friend and I made plans to go to a show that night, someone I had seen before. He’s good, I said. Puts on quite a show.
Tight, he said.
I get home before my parents and I change out of my whites. I’m excited for the show. He really is good. My brother comes home. We say hi, talk. Not too long afterward my parents come home, but something is different. They’re crying, and their tears charge the air. My body stiffens. My stomach knots. We meet them in the kitchen. Your grandpa, they say. My brother and I look at each other. There’s no need to finish, but they do. He went jogging and never came back. They found his body. My brother and I open our mouths, but we’re silent. Heart attack.
I’m flying out tonight, my dad says. We fly out the next, my mom says. We hug, we cry, but I don’t feel anything, or maybe I feel too much, and everything cancels out. It’s surreal. This is my first experience with death, the first time someone close to me, someone I know—someone I knew—died. How do I act? What do I do? Do I just go on? Is there a book I can read? There has to be. It’s an old subject.
My dad packs his bags, we say goodbye, and he heads to the airport. I look around the house. My grandpa was here. He sat on that couch, he used our bathroom. He slept on my bed.
We order take-out and eat, and maybe it’s the food, but we talk. We swap stories, we reminisce, we remember. We talk about how grumpy he was, how his rough voice always made him sound angry. We talk about how when he visited us, the thing that most impressed him was the price of milk. So cheap, he said. I’d move here just for that. We talk about the time he sang this song in a tinny voice that cracked my brother and me up, and how every time we saw him we would ask him to sing it again, but neither of us could remember how it went.
We finish dinner, and I say I’m going to a show. My mom laughs. I shower and dress. You’re serious?…Yeah.…You’re gonna go? Now?…I made plans.…Kevin. Kevin. Stay. Talk. Don’t go.…I made plans. I’m repeating myself, I don’t have a real reason. Life goes on, I say. The look on her face, it’s too much. I’ll be back, I say. Don’t tell dad.
The show is good, but I’m not really there, so I don’t enjoy it. I’m in my head, convincing myself that what I did wasn’t terrible, that I didn’t just bail on my family in a time of need. What good is talking? It won’t bring him back. He wouldn’t have cared. He told my dad he sucked after a Little League game, that he wouldn’t go to another one! I drink, but the thoughts get louder and spill onto my face, so I go home.
We fly out the next day and our dad picks us up. We stay at my grandma’s, and she’s a wreck. Her life just ended. Who’s going to drive her to the grocery store? Who’s going to take her to the doctor? Who’s going to help her do anything? How is she going to live?
We unpack, dress, and head off to the wake. The ride over is tense and silent, bundled with nerves. We arrive and are greeted by aunts, uncles, cousins. I’m not ready. I don’t think anyone is. My dad sees him first, by himself, and when he comes out, he’s changed. He looks alone, left behind, and he hugs each of us tighter. We all go in, and soon each of us makes our way to the casket. I go, and I see my grandpa lying there. To see him like that, as a corpse…I burst into tears. What did I do? Why? I’m sorry, I tell him. I’m so sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. I touch him. He’s cold and stiff, feels like cement. It’s him, but it’s not; something is missing. He’s missing. It’s eerie, like he’s been replaced with a clone that’s slightly off. I feel guilty. I feel terrible. I feel ashamed. I give him a hug, stroke his hair. I’m going to miss you, I say. I love you and I’m going to miss you and I’m so, so sorry.
I sit back down. I look at my mom. She looks at me. I give her a hug, and I cry like an animal. She knows.