Death Defines Us

…Death wasn’t something that was really real to us. We weren’t oblivious to it but it was something that happened to old people: Grandparents, Grand Uncles or Grand Aunts.  Old people. People over 40.  Not to an 11 year old boy! And not to somebody we knew who was only 11! No way. We were immortal at that age.

Suddenly playing didn’t seem so important now, or appropriate, or relevant somehow.  I turned to leave O’Grunt’s house and began my walk home, in thought, in shock, my head down in sorrowful disbelief, walking by rote as if in some automaton trance passing Darren’s house on the way.  There it was, on my left.  Nondescript.  Just a structure of brick and mortar.   Inanimate from the outside.  How many times have I passed that house without giving it a second thought or a glance, only knowing that it was Darren’s house.  But now, how could I even look at that house knowing full well the grey pall that was descending upon it like a cold blanket of grief: all encompassing, unrelenting, suffocating grief!  I couldn’t imagine the awfulness that was permeating through it like a deadly virus, throughout every room: in the walls, the floors, every nook and cranny of that house. Crushing memories of a child, of a son, of an innocent youngster who had his whole life ahead of him yet was saddled with the misfortune of not being able to capture the breath of life.  Even today, as I walk past that house it looks exactly as I remembered it, as I walked past it hundreds of times in my youth.  It remains to this day a very modest, post war abode: long and narrow, a red brick structure that was a home and very common for this street before the tear downs and monster home craziness began to destroy the neighborhood.

We all went to the showing.  I must admit how scared I was.  The foreboding atmosphere of the funeral home. The smell of the carpets, the incense filled heaviness and tension, sadness in the air.  Was this how death smelled?

We were all escorted into the viewing parlour.  I could sense that Darren was laid out somewhere for all to see but couldn’t see exactly where he was due to the large number of people there.  I think that the funeral home’s concierge sensed this as he made a path for us to come and have a look or pay our respects.  We all followed him somewhat gingerly, with some trepidation, for none of us knew what to expect.  I think I grabbed onto Jimmy mum’s arm at that moment in time for reassurance that all would be okay.  He looked at me and I could see a slight tint of foreboding in his face.  O’Grunts was non plussed about the whole thing but solemn looking nonetheless.  Big Maxx was there as were many of the girls in Darren’s immediate neighborhood.  All were in shock and in an emotional state.  The concierge sensed our fear and told us not to worry as Darren would appear to be asleep. Okay! That helps

Finally we were all there around his open casket. I think I had my eyes closed and then, very carefully, bravely, opened one eye for a short glance.  Darren did indeed appear to be asleep. His eyes were closed and his face seemed to be coloured with blush, just a hint of rose, smooth but pastel-like, with colour on his cheeks and lips.  Laying there straight up with his hands folded, in peaceful remorse, dressed in his pajamas as if he was in an eternal asleep.  Above his coffin they had a landscape form of the heavens, in a kaleidoscope of colours, with the moon and the stars sparkling as if in some magical, ecclesiastical collage. To a young boy like me it was both beautiful and creepy and I can still remember that scene as if I saw it yesterday and not 50 years ago.

We kind of paid our respects as best we could to Darren’s mom and dad and then got the hell out of there…