There were no steps in front of her coffin. I desperately wanted to look inside this huge object that had replaced the couch in our living room. I had ventured out of my bedroom, my place of solace to see what the adults latest hushed commotion was all about that morning. The couch had been removed. It had replaced by what looked like a giant shiny box with an open lid. I recognized a familiar silhouette of what resembled my Mother.
There were beautiful flowers surrounding this curious box that exuded an unfamiliar scent. The flowers did not smell like the flowers that grew in our gardens. I came closer to the shiny box, and saw that I would have to climb it in order to see what was inside. I placed my hands on it’s smooth side using my tiny fingers to search for a place to grip. My love of monkey bars had paid off, I had successfully pulled myself up allowing me to see the contents of this curious box.
Imagine my surprise to find my Mother lying there sleeping in the box. I spoke to her. She did not speak back. I proceeded to rouse her by caressing her with my small hand ( I was aware that she didn’t feel well, and this was how I had been shown to wake her) but, she didn’t feel the same. Her arm wasn’t warm like usual. It was cold, much harder, she was dressed in the way that she dressed when we would go some place special. She looked beautiful ,and yet strangely different!
My uncle entered the room and immediately rushed to my side. I instinctively searched his face for some sort of explanation. His face looked so sad, and his eyes filled with tears. He finally spoke telling me that my Mother was sleeping. Much like the beautiful flowers had smelt differently, my Mother was sleeping differently. He proceeded to put my coat on to take me for a walk. I searched the faces of the other adults in the room.
I had been use to the hushed way they were speaking for weeks now, but there was something intensely different today. My questions came out one after another-“Where was our couch?, Why did the flowers smell so funny? Why did Mommy feel so cold? Why was she dressed up? Why didn’t she wake up to see me? The room was silent and suddenly filled with uncontrollable sobbing. My Father was drunk and started crying, and screaming “Shut her up! Get her out of my sight!” I pried myself from my uncles embrace, running towards my Father wanting him to hold me. He pushed me away, dropping to his knees wailing like a wounded animal.
I was terrified! Completely unequipped with only four years of life experience to understand anything that was going on around me. My determination to know what was going on had broken them all! No one knew what to say to me. How do you explain death to a four year old girl? Even now I can not say to you that I could have found a better way of handling this situation that had fallen into their hands. I will tell you that it was clearly a defining moment that changed my life forever.