Confession: The only thing worse than seeing someone for the last time is not seeing someone for the last time.
It wasn’t my grandpa after all. Someone had taken him away and left a wax effigy; not a very good one, though they obviously tried. The cheeks and mouth were all wrong. And the hands were not Grandpa’s. I looked at the figure and felt nothing but disappointment. It wasn’t him after all, and my one chance to see him again and say goodbye was taken away.
But we had to go on and finish what we started, had to eat the scalloped potatoes and talk to the people and shovel the dirt, though in the whole simulation I could not find the two people I came to see: Grandpa and Jesus.
We sang his favorite song at the funeral, though it wasn’t really his favorite song but another by the same name, put in by mistake. We sang the wrong song—all five verses—and we listened to clay tongues share feeble words about Eli’s compassionate spirit glaring forth.
The living are selfish with the dead. I imagine that I have a corner on the grief; that he was at his very core My Grandpa. Over here is a camp who loved him better, and longer. At heart he was Our Dad. Here is a large black-clad body claiming him Our Preacher. And here stands his widow, silent and small. She doesn’t say it, but he was My Husband for twenty-seven years. Beneath every claim lies the unstaked mystery of Eli Mark Yutzy, and no one there knows who he really was.
All I know is that he’s gone.
Has been gone this whole week.
I am happy for those who cried yesterday, who recognized in the coffin the man they loved, who laid him to rest. My time is still coming, and when it does I will have no effigy.
What if you don’t feel the right thing at the right time?