A Mourning

By Reece Pye

I’d never been to a funeral before. But this isn’t what concerned me, as much as it upset me. What I was concerned about was that I was going to have to stand before my closest family, and people I had never seen before, so I could deliver the eulogy my mother wrote.

Given the mess she was before we got into the church, it stands to say she was in no position to speak to a room full of people.

Neither was I, but being her one and only child, I was burdened with obligation.

Being surrounded by my most immediate relatives, including my great aunt’s daughter, son, and their father, who also happens to be her former husband, I had great reason to set aside the fact that I was sitting inside a church. I felt so out of place that I briefly forgot about everyone else seated around me, as I observed my surroundings.

It’s what you’d think your average church looks like. Rows of dark, wooden benches that shine when the sunlight hits. Seats completely filled, although it was a rather cramped, with holy images engraved into the glass of the windows. The mandatory statue of Jesus on the cross at the very head of the building, just behind the podium I’d shortly stand behind…

I was wedged between my mother and grandmother. As I looked on both sides and behind me, almost everybody’s head was lowered. No words in preparation of the service, just tears and sobs absorbed into tissues.

People may have been better equipped to handle their emotions had it not been for the open casket service. I happened to be sitting no more than ten feet away from the coffin, and couldn’t help but gaze at it intermittently, the lid wide open.

Before anyone sat down for the service, we had the opportunity to pay our last respects. When it was my turn, I dreaded having to see nothing more than a shell.

As I walked up the aisle with my mother’s hand in mine, I wondered what our reactions would be once we saw our aunt. I witnessed one woman I had never seen prior burst into tears and be escorted out. And she wasn’t even a part of our immediate family.

Mum’s eyes were fresh with tears as she approached the coffin and gazed into it for a long moment.

Mum moved on and, as I approached the coffin, I feel numb inside. I wondered whether she would live eternally as the celebrant would later promise.

I looked down upon her, and felt paralysed.

Despite her face layered with foundation and what other chemicals, she looked better than when I last saw her alive. At home, and at the hospital—but especially the hospital.

Looking at her now, smaller than what she was when I last saw her—she had stopped eating entirely—it was hard to imagine it was the same woman I once knew: plump and more than skin and bone.

It was ironic that, of all health problems she had lived with most of her life, she fell victim to a true parasite that invades the pancreas, the heart, and almost any organ that lies within. To all of us, it was far too early when it took her from this earth, as she’d just crossed to the sixth decade of her life.

I stared at her, trying not to sob. I reached down and placed my hand over hers.

Someone tapped my shoulder. It was the balding minister, swathed in his black robe and purple silk scarf outlined in gold, standing before me with his arms crossed, cupping a leather-bound bible.

For reasons I couldn’t grasp, I despised him.

‘There’s no touching,’ he said.

Without saying anything, I turned back to my aunt. My tears began to fall and, like mum, I moved on so whoever was behind me could have their moment of personal grief.

Barely an hour later, after speaking to people I hadn’t seen in some time and hearing them share their most cherished memories, I was back inside. Sitting among all the most important people in my life, except the woman whose own life we were here to celebrate and mourn, the only emotion left inside me now was anticipation.

In front of me, the son and daughter of my great aunt sat in teary silence on both sides of their father with their heads resting against his shoulders.

The old man wrapped his arms around the siblings who resembled lost children. Like any decent father, he consoled them even when confronted with the same staggering loss himself.

In my hand was a pamphlet that detailed the proceedings, and featured her favourite songs which played throughout the service. There was a picture of my great aunt on the front of the pamphlet, with her date of birth and death. After staring at it for a minute or two, I became displeased that there apparently wasn’t a decent image of her for us to pin up on our fridges for the next few weeks, months—even years.

This aside, everything else about the service was handled with the utmost care and the right amount of sincerity. It wasn’t just a mourning. As the slideshow began, accompanied by the music, my hands began to shake in anticipation as I thought about how I would be able cope once I was called up to the podium to read my mother’s words.

I thought back to the night she had written them, and how she called me into the loungeroom, so I could proofread the draft.

‘It’s great, mum,’ I told her once I’d finished. And I meant it.

‘Can’t you just go over it and fix whatever you think doesn’t work?’ She had a glass of wine in her hand and, given how emotional she was, I knew it wasn’t the first one she’d had.

‘Honestly, it’s perfect, there’s nothing more you need to say’ I said—again, truthfully.

But she snatched the paper from my hand, called me a lazy prick, and demanded that I get out of her sight.

I complied, and was frustrated with the way she took her anger out on me during the rest of the night, but looking back now, it’s easier to understand why.

Yet as I sat beside her now, watching the service unfold, a pang of guilt struck me. I imagined the strength and courage it took to write the words she’d written. Would I be capable? I shut the thought from my mind; I didn’t want to think of a time I would need to think of my mother in the past tense.

Suddenly, I was brought to the present as the minister turned and gave me a grin.

‘I would now like to invite Elizabeth’s niece’s son to the microphone so that he can say a few words on her behalf.’

The fact that I told him our names barely half an hour beforehand told me he didn’t care to remember my name after my apparent act of sacrilege earlier.

Stepping carefully out into the aisle, I dare not to look to my right as I made my way to the podium and reluctantly shook the minister’s hand, who then stepped aside.

I retrieved my mother’s speech from my pocket with a trembling hand, and unfolded it. I cleared my throat, glanced at my mother and then my grandmother. Mum smiled and, despite our distance, her tears were clear.

Seeing them, we locked eyes for a moment. I wondered whether I would sit in the same spot as hers when it was time for my own child—or children—to stand where I was now as they read out their grandmother’s eulogy.

I thought about this for a moment… But thank god for Mum, she started miming the words she wrote, and freed me from my trance.

I looked down at the piece of paper, and begin speaking.




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