FUNERAL CLOTHES

Mom and Dad, around 1952

Mom and Dad, around 1952

When the cancer had eaten its fill,
Little was left of Dad.
He was diminished
Figuratively
Literally
And oh, he had been handsome
Just ask Mom
She recalled wistfully his dark hair
And fine looks vaguely reminiscent of Elvis
A real catch
To me, he was ruddy and practical
Middle aged paunch and square glasses
But the disease made us both liars
He was shrunken
Sallow
Hollow

I was fourteen, the years in my life
Equal to the months in his death
I was fourteen, primed for my moment
In the spotlight of adolescence
But really of little use or effect
In our current circumstance
Which was dire
My brothers were older
Practically men
I couldn’t drive to hospital visits
Or take on part time work
Fourteen was a nuisance who still needed tending
Who couldn’t be trusted
Or leaned upon
Trivial
Futile

When the end could not be postponed
There arose the matter of clothes
My brothers were excused
Because they could drive
Because they could work
Practically men
So this was my job
After all, what fourteen-year-old girl
Doesn’t like to shop
For clothes?
We spoke in a secret language:
Easter is coming, said Mom
And Dad needs a new suit
She knew the code
The clerk knew
I knew

I sat on a stool in the corner
Watching the arrayal
Knowing the casket was ready
Masculine
Oaken
A drape of ivory satin
A touch of dogwood carving
Our clerk was equal to the task
Offered up tweeds, checks, herringbones
Double breasted and single
How do I look? asked Dad
So I pictured him dressed and
Resting against that satin pillow
Forever after
In charcoal
Or navy

When the suit had been procured
Wine-colored and plaid
It was the 1970’s
Discord
Disco
Just ask anyone
We turned our attention to dresses
From the only posh shop in our rural town
A real treat
This time there was no secret code
After all, what would be the point?
We’d grown tired of pretending
And asked for something funereal
The sales girl was honored
Dignified
Earnest

You might wear this outfit again
She suggested helpfully
And oh, I scoffed
Doubtful
Incredulous
What woman would wear again a dress
That had seen her husband sent to the life beyond?
We would burn them
Mom’s sedate black and white-jacketed ensemble
With mine of light blue and green
Burn and bury the memories
Salt the earth afterward
But of course we didn’t
There would be no fire
No liturgy
No rite

When those days had passed into the past
Little was left to say
We were exhausted
Wasted
Weary
And needed to move ahead
As survivors must
The funeral clothes occupied awkward space
Between artifact and awful reminder
My brothers, who had simply called on existing garments
Lost their leisure suits to merciful obsolescence|
Mom’s widow costume reverently wrapped in white tissue
Put away, neither seen nor forgotten
My blue and green frock donated to charity
But there is plaid
In Heaven

~lisa
6/10/2013

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TWO PRINCES

There once was a princess.  Although she had no golden crown for her head, she knew she was a princess because her daddy told her so.  “Goodbye, my princess,” he’d say every day as he went off to slay dragons and make the kingdom safe for his devoted queen, his two princes, and of course, for his daughter, the princess.

The princess was a happy child.  Her parents, the king and queen, provided for her every need, while her brothers, the princes, doted on their little sister.  The first prince was charming, outgoing, and athletic, with dark, curly hair and playful, blue eyes.  He brought the princess little gifts, taught her to dance, and always waved at her from the jousting field.  The second prince was tall, clever, and artistic.  His eyes were the deepest brown— like her own—and with him she discussed music, literature, and art. 

When the princess was only 13, the king became very sick.  One long year later he went to live in Heaven, leaving behind his deeply grieving queen, his two princes, and his princess—who by then was so preoccupied with becoming a young woman that she couldn’t understand the depth of his loss.  The queen took over slaying dragons and keeping the kingdom safe—in fact, she became the heroine of her own story, which is to be told at another time.   As for the princes, they struggled to find their rightful places out in the world while keeping a watchful eye on the princess

The first prince arranged for her to visit him at university and encouraged her studies.  The second prince recognized her creativity, and took her to concerts and the theater.  But the princess had become stubborn and headstrong, declaring to the princes and to the great, wide, world: “I am 14!  I can take care of myself!”  And she stomped her foot.  So the princes gave her some freedom so that she might find her own way, but they remained steadfast.  The first prince had become a young man of great faith, and he prayed daily for her safe passage onward.  When the second prince discovered the princess kissing a village rogue in the schoolyard, he stepped in with such uncharacteristic forcefulness that the princess dared not question his word, and the rogue was banished from her life forever.

The princess found triumph and failure and mischief and love and heartbreak—always with the two princes near enough to cheer her on or to cushion her fall. 

“Whatever will I do?” the princess cried one day when she could see no way out of her troubles.  The second prince laid a hand on her shoulder and told her plainly, “You will walk through the fire and come out the other side, as we all must from time to time.”  The first prince sent her daily messages of love, and shared with her his favorite verse from the Book of Hebrews:  I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.

So it went, year after year.  And in time, the princess learned a valuable lesson.  She learned that she was just a girl, after all.  But the two princes?  They really, truly, were princes.