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The Mausoleum




I saw the hearse before anyone else.  I was standing outside and I silently hoped that it wasn’t ours, as if that would have mattered.  The unseasonably warm, humid Pennsylvania morning caused the hearse to swell as it slowly crawled up the drive.

         As it approached, I was unsure how to react so I just stared.  My eyes bored into it.

         My hands were in my pockets.

         I stood out under the portico; the small of my back was beaded with sweat.  I didn’t mind.  Discomfort was not allowed in the solemn presence of death, I felt.

         The hearse pulled closer and I knew it was ours.  In the distended seconds of its approach, I was forced to confront the reality that my grandmother was there, but not.  She was present and in our company, but peculiarly absent.


I was never close to her.  My grandfather died when I was six years old.  I attended his funeral and was subsequently plagued by haunting obsessions with the finality of death.  I was seven when they ended—but they never really ended.

         Since that time, my grandmother had been my only living grandparent.  I saw her maybe once or twice a year, each visit stilted and formal. We never really touched beyond breathless hugs—the kind in which we exerted more energy leaning in than actually embracing.  It wasn’t a result of how I was raised, but more how she was raised.  I respected that, for it was all either of us knew.

         I can only remember one actual conversation we ever had:  I was thirteen and she had come for dinner.  My dad sliced into his finger, at the time assuming he was slicing a watermelon.  My mom took him to the emergency room and I was left alone with her.  We did the dishes together.  I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember thinking that it wasn’t so bad after all, spending time with Grandma.


As the hearse pulled to a stop, my brother, my two cousins, and I were silently expected to serve as the pallbearers to transfer the casket into the mausoleum.  It was a very private ceremony, mostly by choice—although the fact that she had outlived all of her friends remained an inescapable reality.

         I held my part of her warm, metallic casket, remembering my grandfather’s solid oak casket and wondering why and how she had chosen her model.

         As we shuffled, I concentrated on my clenched left hand supporting her.  I believed that this was the most intimate moment she and I had ever shared.

Inside, the ceremony lasted no more than fifteen minutes.  My family is not religious, but we maintained endless respect for my grandmother’s pastor.


“In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God: Peggy Bear.”

         I did not know you as I should have.

         “We commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

         I was busy with friends when you passed, I had no idea.

         “The Lord bless her and keep her, the Lord maketh his face to shine upon her and be gracious unto her and give her peace.”

         You left this world fighting, I’m told.  97 and not ready to die—I hope to go the same way.




As the pastor finished her service, I watched a wasp spasm and die in a ray of light on the cream-hued carpet.  I remembered why my grandfather wanted to be interred there.  I wondered if my grandmother felt the same.

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