Friday, April 19, 2013

Aunty’s Funeral: Journal Entries from 1947

December 17

How can one be objective about death when it is close to you? All the way home I couldn’t quite grasp the reason why I was going there so soon. I thought about everything else. Snatches of songs ran through my mind and I could laugh. When I got here it was just like coming home any other time – except for a few friends of my Aunty sitting solemn and commiserating in the front room with my mother and uncle. I wasn’t prepared when one of them said, “I guess it was a shock to you, Sally, wasn’t it?” I was stunned. I wanted to cry out “Why do you ask me that?! She isn’t dead! She isn’t! I can’t believe it! It’s none of your business! Get out!” But I smiled woodenly and said, “Yes, it certainly was!”

It was all right after they left. We smoked and talked about school and my bus trip. At 9:30 there was nothing left to say and we went to bed to fill up the awful silence. I slept in my mother’s room. It was best. She talked and did very well except when she broke down for a moment. I really lost control when she said, “And I had a new dress all ready for her.” But I bit my lip. Oh, God, it’s awful.

Today we cleaned the house and I went up town and everything went as usual. Then the undertakers came with the ghastly maroon trappings and fixtures and – Aunty. I ran out of the house to go up town for groceries. I came back and went in the back door. We sat in the dining room not looking at each other until Mama finally went in to look at -- the corpse. She came out and said cheerfully, “She looks quite nice. Don’t you want to go and look at her, Willie?” He went in and burst into tears. Oh, dear God, it is awful to hear a man cry – one whom you thought had no capacity for such deep grief! He stopped and came back and sat in the bay window and looked unseeing into the distance.

I had to go in and – stopped, appalled at the death display. Aunty looked so natural and calm I nearly wanted to help her sit up. I said unconsciously, “Move!” But she didn’t. Why doesn’t she? She is happier now, she must be. All her pain is gone and the only reason for sadness is the hole in our lives which can never be quite filled.

The funeral will be tomorrow and it will be a nightmare. All the relatives are coming today and they will speak of the deceased in hushed tones. I’ll go mad. If only I knew what to do. I feel so helpless in the face of such grief on the part of my mother. Even Aunty’s dog wanders around like an aimless shadow. Death in the family is so deep and so unexplainable that one, no matter how he tries, cannot prepare for it and meet it peacefully. I cannot.

December 18

It’s over. It really […] in church. She’s gone and nothing – no one can bring her back. It was a painful hour. I am so deathly afraid of that smothering maroon coffin. I’ll choke and I know I’ll die hideously because, you see, I can’t imagine anyone stopping breathing! It was bitter in the certainty -- she’ll be so cold tonight without Skipper to sit on her feet and keep her warm!
 (Sarah was 20 years old and attending college when she wrote this. -SFS)

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