There were poinsettias everywhere, because the church was still decorated for Christmas, and my dad was in a box. We were singing “The Lord is My Shepherd” – my aunt, my uncles, my cousins, my husbands, and me – and my dad was in a box. I was kneeling with my head bowed while the rest all filed up to receive the Eucharist, because I am not Confirmed but – also – because my dad was in a box.
I was in the front-right pew, as close to the box – to my dad – as I could be, and I just couldn’t look at it anymore. How could my dad be in the box? There were no breathing holes. I kept thinking about whether he’d been jostled around as the people at the funeral parlor put the box in the hearse. He hadn’t worn a seat belt. Everyone else who had come from there to here had worn a seat belt. Didn’t anybody care?
I sang when I felt like screaming, and I don’t know whether that was brave or cowardly. Was it cruel, callous, to sing “The Irish Blessing” to a person we’d just shipped like an Amazon package from one place to another, as if we gave a shit how he felt about being cargo? Wasn’t it like singing “Happy Birthday” to the presents? Or the cake?
But no. No, I had to remind myself, kneeling, shaking on the floor in my pew: my dad was not in the box. My dad was not in the box, because before we shipped him like an Amazon package we’d scooped him out and filled him back in with something more synthetic, so he wouldn’t smell. His face, the face I saw at the funeral parlor, was painted on. His hand was ice cold. As soon as I touched it, I wished I hadn’t, because it sucked the warmth of those last three days away – the days my mother slept but I did not, the days I held and held and held his hand so that he would know I was there with him. I was holding his hand when he died at two in the morning, and even then it was still warm. When it was filled with blood.
My dad was not in the box. A stuffed animal was in the box. Where was my dad? Nowhere. My dad was nowhere, and I was on the floor, kneeling, shaking, because someday so would I be nowhere. My dad couldn’t remember me. My dad didn’t know me. My dad didn’t know anything anymore, not even himself, and that hurt – sure, it hurt – but it wouldn’t hurt forever. Because someday I wouldn’t remember, either. I wouldn’t know I had ever been.
My dad was in the box. My dad was not in the box. It was a pretty big deal to me at the time, and yet the best I could hope for – kneeling, shaking, on the floor – was that he didn’t give a shit because he didn’t know: that he was my dad, that he loved me, and that he was in a fucking box.