By Sydney Bailen (’24)
My knees sunk into the dirt, staining and ripping my black tights. I barely felt the little pebbles digging into my knees. My eyes were bloodshot and puffy from days of crying, but still rivers of tears streamed down my face. I tried to hold back the sob that racked my body as I stared at the new dirt in front of the untouched grave, which read Robert M. Lamont (1932-2011). It seemed too perfect, too shiny, for a time like this. Anger rushed through my body with a cold fury at the thought of this grave being the only thing left of him. No. I wanted to scream. This was unfair. It was too soon. Too unexpected. Too final. His voice would never pass through my ears again, his smile already fading from my memory. My head slumped down against my chest, as more tears filled my eyes. I felt a hand squeeze my shoulder, I looked to my right to see my mom and dad, both dressed in black and seemingly broken—hearts that would never fully repair. Their hands intertwined, never letting the other go. I turned my head to my left, finding my sister and brother side-by-side staring at that too perfect grave.
With the wind and rain whipping around that too perfect grave, I asked, Why? Why?! Who is the man in the clouds watching from above? Why isn’t he doing anything? Is this what life is? Pain, grief, and never-ending sorrow? I thought there was a Higher Power watching over us, taking care of us. But no. There is no ethereal being in the clouds. Only me, my family, and my unrepairable shattered heart, that has been laid to rest with the man underneath the cold ground.
I stood up on shaky legs, my little black shoes sinking into the ground. I walked slowly to the grave and I placed my hand on the rough stone edging the shiny front. Wishing, praying, to feel something, anything of the man I used to know. Except, I felt nothing, only the rough stone scraping my fingertips. My eyes fluttered closed, I took one last shaky breath and finally said goodbye. I turned my back on the grave, my hand slid across the stone, until I felt nothing, only the cool air beneath my fingers. “Goodbye Grampy.”
~ ~ ~
My mind often wanders back to the fateful day my Grampy passed. It was the morning of January 21, 2011; I woke up and ran downstairs to look outside—the roads, the grass, and the trees were concealed by a thick layer of snow, casting an ethereal glow over the outside world. It was a good day and school was cancelled. I was happy. I sat at the kitchen table eating my scrambled eggs and ham, and I could hear my mother shuffling around in the bathroom as she got ready to leave for work, her voice travelled down the hallway, “…Dad, please don’t go out and shovel today, Steve said he would come over and shovel for you later.” I could hear Grampy’s voice on the phone, but the words were indistinguishable. My mom let out a loud sigh, before saying, “Okay Dad, I love you,” and the line went dead. I could hear the click, click, click, of her heels on the wooden floor, as mom made her way into the kitchen. She gave me a swift kiss on the head, and reminded me that Dad would be coming home from his business trip in three days, before walking outside and driving off to work.
It was later in the day when my sister, my brother, and I returned home from the movies, dropped off by a family friend. We walked inside to see my mom standing in the kitchen. I looked at her face, and her eyes were red from crying, and that was when my blood ran cold. She brought all three of us into the den. The four walls lined with family pictures and furnished with bright red couches, which, honestly, had seen better days. I made my way to the couch; my sister sat on my left and my brother on my right. My mother began to speak—something happened to Grampy today. He passed away.
My eyes brimmed with tears, but I willed myself not cry. I remember thinking to myself as I sat on that faded, red couch, that I had to be strong for my brother and sister, no matter that they were five years older than me. The two of them, in every way possible were different, my sister sat staring at a spot on the blue walls. My brother had his head between his knees, sobbing relentlessly. At that moment, I never thought how angry I was at whatever higher power there may be. He took someone that was too good and too caring from our lives without any warning.
I remembered the week before when he brought me to a coffee shop, my little chubby hand wrapped inside his strong, callused hand, from years of hard work. Yet now, nothing…Nothing. I told myself that a miracle would happen, that it would be a little prank, he played on us, children. But no. That higher power stole him away. He left him in the snow, lying there. Dying there. Taking his last breaths, alone. Staring at the white sky while flakes fell on his cooling body.
~ ~ ~
Twelve years have passed since that day and many things have changed. My family. My age. My life. Nevertheless, my beliefs have stayed the same. I wish I could say I believed in God. Yet how can I believe in something that stole one of my loved ones away, leaving him in a pile of snow with only his shovel resting beside him? How can I believe in God, when so much hate and death occur in this world? In his memoir Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis wrote, “It was a sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.” (Lewis, 1955). My religion, and my God, had sunk, just like that ancient city, that crumbled beneath the waves.
Lewis, C. S. (1955). Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my early life.