Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2003
Word Count: 852
I remember my first funeral, standing in the church and watching my brothers walk down the aisle holding the coffin. They were so young, just boys with a burden of the world heavy on their shoulders, I could see them – more sensitive than I, biting their lips. I could feel their hope to remain strong just until they had reached the end. I was just fifteen, unsure as to the etiquette, was I meant to be in tears, was I being hard. I looked around at my grieving mother and aunts who had been through so much, who had seen a brother, two sisters, a mother and a father pass away, but not just slightly into another world, instead they had watched agony, pain, despise, children losing parents, they had witnessed the grief and the bitter vileness of it all. I had just remained in my home and listened to whispered phone conversations. In my blindness to death I was still naïve to life.
I saw my uncle, slouched at the church entrance. I was scared to go up to him but just shuffled behind my mother and mumbled an apology, ‘I’m so sorry’ or something else as insincere, as robotic. It was okay, words weren’t registering to him. He had lost his wife, the man can go before the woman and she will figure out how to maintain the house, but without his wife, his emotional support was gone. He hugged me tight, even though we had never been close. I doubt that he actually liked me. But I felt comforted that he could do so. He hugged and cried and all I remember him saying was ‘Bee, why? She’s gone. She’s gone.’ and I just patted him on the back and eventually slightly pushed him away and walked off.
And then there were my cousins. They were the tricky ones. What do you say to two young girls that have lost their mother, especially when I can’t empathise – how can I, when I will go back to my mother and await support, her love. I stood outside the church and watched them. I was being cowardly, I know that but I was too afraid to go up to them. I was afraid that they would hate me. I was afraid that I would be ignored. I knew I had to speak to them and eventually I did. But it wasn’t out of sincerity; it was to save myself – to prevent my name being sneered around as the callous uncaring family member. I said sorry, I said that I would be there if there was anything I could do. But what, I lived in Durban – they in Cape Town – how could I have helped. We all nodded our heads and nothing registered. They did hate me. I knew that and I did not blame me, at that moment I hated myself.
I stood next to my brother and cousin, I watched in horror the coffin being lowered into the ground. It was real; it was a sudden sharp slap of reality. I looked around, at my uncle who was just shaking his head, at my mom who wiped her eye and took petals out of a basket that was being handled around, at my brother who now walked away to the car, not able to handle it. At my two motherless cousins, the one – the sixteen year old being hugged by a family friend and my little cousin dry eyed and just staring – she never would cry. I took petals threw them and then turned around to join my brother at the car. The whole time I was wondering, are my emotions correct?
We went to my aunt Edwina’s for lunch and drinks. I sneaked out a beer, and went and had a cigarette with my cousin Jason. We sat in silence watching our family from afar. Our aunts attempting to gather all us cousins together – for the first time a photo of the ‘children’. We shook our head at the morbidity of this. Were we supposed to smile and clink glasses. We could hear our names being called. Quickly we put out our cigarettes – my family inundated with smokers and the curse of cancer stills wafts afresh. We put out our cigarette and headed towards the gathered teenagers, our cousins, aunts clustering around, preparing to put us in order – to take the photo that they had so desired and now, at last we are all together, at Imelda’s funeral.
Click. The photo did get taken. But at that moment, Mary my oldest aunt fainted. Her daughter ran towards her panicked and in fear that now another one had been taken – her mother. I stood froze; I felt the mania around me but could not move. I saw tears, I heard statements such as ‘Not again, not again!’ and then suddenly, ‘She’s just fainted. It’s ok!’ and ‘OK – take another one. Just in case, take another photo!’
And we cousins all stood with plastic smiles on our faces. Click!