The day was too warm for such sadness, and the sun was much too bright. She wasn’t sure if she was even there, in that life, during those moments – it all felt so abstract. She had heard the priest speak of her brother at the funeral and had watched as the parade of friends and colleagues shuffled to the podium and said funny and kind words. But it was so unexpected and he was so young that she really hadn’t heard much of anything since he died.
They were in a town car driving from the church, and while there were others in the car with her, she felt entirely alone, adrift in confusion and disbelief. Oh she knew they were on their way to the cemetery where, apparently, other long-gone relatives were buried near each other, family she had never even met. But she wondered how could they possibly leave her brother there among strangers… buried under the dark earth where the light would never reach him again?
Her eyes fixated on the bumper of the hearse in front of them and she stared and stared, losing awareness, trying desperately to tease out what was happening. It had to be a dream, she thought, – it had to be because that was the only way her brother could be dead at the age of 37 – in a bad dream.
Her eyes grew weary and she lifted them to the sky – maybe she’d find an answer there, she wondered, but the sky was so blue it hurt her eyes and she felt angry. It had no right to be such a beautiful day. It was still April and it shouldn’t be so warm, so sunny, so… normal.
Their mournful funeral procession moved ever so slowly through the heart of her small hometown. She clasped her hands and rubbed them together back and forth, back and forth. The car felt stuffy and overheated and for a moment she thought she might retch but, no – it was even too nice of a day for that. She hated the blue sky, the bright sun… even the comfortable seat she sat in. She hated it all.
They were coming to the turn to the main road that would take them to the cemetery. The cars in the procession slowed as they approached the stop sign, and that’s when they appeared – ten police officers dressed in full uniform lining the road around the corner. As the hearse began its turn, the officers raised their hands to the heads, saluting the fallen officer, their friend, a man who had a life and a family and a future… and then didn’t. The funeral had been private but her brother’s fellow officers had found a way to show their respect, their grief, their unity. Her heart caught in her throat at the poignancy of it all and she let out a small gasp.
It was true then; her brother was dead.
He had been shot while on duty, and while he didn’t die immediately, his head wound meant that he would never recover. After an agonizing ten hours he was finally gone. And even though she had seen it with her own eyes, she hadn’t really believed it. Not until she came upon the ten solemn police officers standing straight and true at the corner of Center and Pine, saluting the passing hearse, had the awful truth stuck.
As they pulled into the cemetery the horror and sadness hit her anew and the tears began to streak down her cheeks softly like rain. How could it be?
The mourners exited the cars, a somber and grief-stricken group of people she loved. She looked at her young niece. The full April sun touch her hair, the colors swirling in the light: a kaleidoscope of brown and gold and copper. The effect was so beautiful it was almost impossible to believe anything bad had happened to that twelve-year-old girl, but she could see the grief, the terror, the uncertainly etched on her young face and it broke her heart all over again. She walked to the girl and grabbed her hand.
The priest stood by the open grave, the coffin nearby and said more priestly words but she wasn’t listening. She was thinking of her brother and how her life would be completely different, now. It was hard to know how to go on, how to live a life without him in it.
The priest finished the final commendation and farewell and for a moment they all stood in silence, trapped in their own personal grief.
Suddenly a sound in the quiet: “Beep, beep, beep…”
Her nephew’s watch timer was chiming, set for some previously but no longer important reason.
The boy smiled a sad smile and reached to his wristwatch and turned the timer off. We all looked at each other, then – my brother’s grief-stricken family – and suddenly we knew: the alarm was one last message from my brother:
“Time to go.”