The Cemetery- Who Is In the Box

Old Jewish Cemetery, Vienna

I woke up a little bit before six and slowly realized that whatever I had been dreaming about had been disturbing. Tried to relax for a moment to see if memory would serve me a few images to digest but got nothing. Nada, ephus, bubkis.

Can’t tell you what it was that made me uneasy, won’t speculate either. What I can tell you is that grandma’s funeral is later today and I am surprised by feeling completely unready for it. Shocked by the feeling of unease and discontent, unprepared for it entirely.

As I move through the house it is a blend of morning rituals. Kids are moving slowly, getting ready for school at a snail’s pace. That is no different than any other day. I am supposed to have a conference call at 7 A.M. but it has been canceled today. I shuffle into the bathroom and close the door, a temporary refuge.

I look in the mirror and see dark circles beneath my eyes, lines in my forehead and a very thick beard. As I stand there I realize I am looking for a 12 year old boy or maybe someone a bit younger. It strikes me that I am 30 years too late. The grandson I seek isn’t here anymore.

That boy’s memories are…still here. And they swirl around inside. They remember going to a cousin’s funeral and seeing the casket. They remember being shocked and surprised then and tears. My tears. I cried and I cried hard. They remember the frustration I felt at not being to hold it together like the men I saw around me.

My grandfather put his arm around me. Even today I can still feel it. Can still smell him. And I remember how after the funeral it was just him and I in the car. And I remember how at my grandmother’s funeral seven years ago I helped him stand on the somewhat uneven ground of the hillside.

Time and age had blessed him with a cane and legs that weren’t so steady. So I stood next to him and when he needed to rest he leaned against me just as I had done years before.


Spent time talking with my son about what will happen today. Tried to prepare him for how things would go. Told him the order of things and that he should expect his aunts to cry…hard. Told him that they cry hard at weddings too, it is just how they are. Nothing wrong with it, but he hasn’t seen them like that and I didn’t want him to be scared.

Told him that grandpa may cry too and that I expect my mother, his grandmother to cry also. And during all this it will be ok if he cries too. He looks up at me and asks, “will you cry dad?”

It is not judgemental, just a question. I purse my lips and consider how to answer. I don’t cry easily and if I do it tends to be in private. I tell him that I am not sure and excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I am conflicted.

Grandpa is doing pretty well, all things considered. He told me about how he discovered that grandma was gone. They were lying in bed together hold hands and suddenly he realized that something wasn’t right. She didn’t cry out or make any sort of noise. Her hand was warm in his, but he could tell something was off. So he called for a nurse. She came in and confirmed what he already knew.

When the mortuary came he made certain he was out of the room. “I can’t see her like that. Can’t watch them stick her in a box.” He and I are sitting in the living room of my parent’s house and I am listening to him talk. His voice alternates between strength and weakness.

He grabs onto my wrist and squeezes it, works to compose himself. My daughter is just across the room, entertaining herself. She is singing softly and I remember how she used to hold onto me like that too. How her little hand would grab mine as she would fight to stand up or to try and walk.

Grandma used to love watching her do that and so did I. I can hear my mother and my aunt talking in a different room, but something is off. And then I realize that I am straining to hear grandma talking to her girls, but she is not because she can’t.

More images and memories run through my mind. Grandpa looks amazing for 96. No ever guesses his age, they are always about ten years off. I wonder if that will be what it is like for me. There in the silence I try to imagine what it must be like to be him. Born during the first world war he has vague memories of soldiers returning home. Stories about how he would help out one of his uncles by riding along in a horse drawn cart and delivering various things.

The kids are yelling now. My daughter and a nephew are chasing a son through the house. I want to let that go for a minute. They are reacting to the strong emotions that are stirring around them. At the same time I know that grandpa won’t last with it, too much noise. I let them make another lap and then ask them to be quieter.

Grandpa looks at me and says that my voice carries quite well and I realize that he was thinking about the little boy that I can’t find too.

Moments later my father asks me to help my sisters with something. Chances are that they need me to get something down, too short to reach it on their own.

The kids are almost ready for school. The funeral is in the afternoon so they’ll attend a partial day. I share a few more words with them, kiss them and send them out the door. And then words come spilling into my mind, “who is in the box?”

Don’t know why I think that, just that I do. The box is my grandmother’s coffin. In a short time I will see it and wonder if she is really in it. I’ll stare at it and wonder if perhaps she won’t suddenly jump out and yell surprise knowing full well that she won’t.

Monday night at the hospital she and I are alone in the room. She is partially sedated and for the moment lying quietly in bed. I bend over in a quiet voice say that I love her and that it is ok. The unspoken words lie thick in my throat and I realize that I have just said goodbye.

A short time later I walk down the hallway, press the call button for the elevator. Standing there I know that this is the last time I am going to make this walk.

The kids are at school and the house is quiet. Now it is just me, my iPod, the computer and you, whomever you are reading this. Time to eat breakfast and consider whether I wish to share any words graveside. I am not ready for this, not yet.

But some choices are made for us or so I tell my children. Guess that today I’ll have to show them that dad abides by his words too. And so it goes.

(Visited 62 times, 1 visits today)


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You may also like