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What a Scary Thing Change Can Be
Christmas Eve was different this year, there was something all of us tried to avoid saying. Aunt Wendy was dying. If we were lucky she would last two more months.
We sat in the living room watching Aunt Wendy open her gifts. She even joked around, “Hey Mike, now we match. We’re both bald!”
“Yeah,” my dad replied with a smile. We all laughed, but no one really thought it was funny. I was astonished as I listened to my aunt talk. She was dying of cancer, but she was the one telling her daughter and husband to be optimistic, the weather wouldn’t delay their flight.
I walked into my kitchen after school, grabbed a snack and sat down on the counter. My mom and sister started talking about school and I just sat and listened. Then suddenly my mom said, “Gab, your dad called today. Wendy died.”
“What? When?” I asked. I hadn’t even thought of Wendy in the month that had passed since Christmas.
“She died last night. Your grandpa got there shortly after.” I sat in silence, not knowing what to say. I was completely shocked, I had known it was coming, but I thought she had more time.
I went to bed that night, but not for long. Every time I closed my eyes I saw Wendy sitting in that chair on Christmas Eve just laughing and smiling. I thought about all she was going to miss out on in life, her daughter’s college graduation that summer and so much more. As I lay there thinking about Wendy, all I could do was sob.
Less than a week later, I left school, and went to the visitation with my sisters. I sat in the back of the room with my cousin, as far as I could get from the casket. I sat there biting my lip and looking at the ceiling because I knew if I looked at Wendy lying so peacefully in her casket, I would cry. When that was no longer enough to keep tears from pouring out, I repeated science terms over and over again. Suddenly my grandpa came over and knelt beside my chair. I could see how much he was hurting when I looked into his deep, brown eyes.
“Is your dad here yet, Gab?’
“No, but he’ll be here soon.”
“Do you want to go up and see Wendy?”
“That’s okay, I understand. If you change your mind just tell me and I’ll go with you.”
I nodded my head in reply while he went back to greeting people as they walked in to pay their last respects. I sat there for a while and my dad eventually arrived and took a seat near his sister and cousins.
Soon Wendy’s husband, Joe, walked towards my grandpa and they arranged to get all the kids out so they could say a prayer for Wendy. It was arranged that my Uncle Tim would take the little kids to my cousin, Tara’s, house and my older sister would take me and my cousin, Bailey, to Tara’s.
As we got into the car, a few tears rolled down my cheek. I wasn’t going to let my sister see me cry, so I did everything I could to stop my tears. I thought if she saw me cry she would laugh at me, she just wouldn’t understand.
We got to Tara’s place and everyone went inside to watch television. Our family tried to make small talk and guess the words on “Wheel of Fortune” as we ate our pizza. I was grateful when my dad finally walked through the door; his cheeks were flushed from the cold.
The next day I was up bright and early to attend the funeral with my dad. It wasn’t different from any other morning except I wasn’t on my way to school where I could forget all about Wendy for a while.
Soon my dad and I walked out into the cool, crisp winter air. We both were silent as we drove to church; neither of us knew what to say to one another.
Finally we arrived at church and as we filed into the church I was stunned at how many people were there. As I scanned the room, I saw my grandpa sitting with his remaining siblings in the front pew.
As the service began I told myself I couldn’t cry, I wouldn’t cry. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry, all my mom had ever taught me was that crying gets you nowhere.
The pastor began his sermon, “Wendy lived a good life. She was a loving mother and wife…”
Why did he think telling me that she had lived a good life would help? It didn’t do any good; it just made me start to cry. I felt miserable and I couldn’t hold back any tears. Soon my Aunt Missy and dad both had their arms around me. My aunt’s nose was bright red from crying as we sat side by side on the pew.
People began to file out of the church and I watched the people walk by with tear filled eyes. I wondered how they had known Wendy as they went by.
Outside the church, my grandma caught up with my dad and me. She was still crying and had trouble finding her keys as she fumbled through her purse after my dad agreed to carpool. Finally she pulled out her keys and handed them to my dad.
“Gab, will you sit in the back with me?” my grandma asked.
I simply nodded my head and we scooted into the backseat. My grandma tried to make small talk on the way to the cemetery, but no one had much to say. All I could do was look out the window and wish this day would end. I wanted to be away from all of this. I wanted to be at school pretending this was all a dream.
Wendy’s family and friends piled into a small building where her casket now sat. My grandpa stood in front looking sophisticated in his black suit. I hoped he wouldn’t cry, but I didn’t think he would. He was always strong and there to comfort and support me.
Wendy’s husband, Joe, soon got up and walked to the front and began to speak. He told of how Wendy had no regrets and had been happy when she died, then he began to play her favorite song. When I looked up I saw my grandpa crying. This sight made me cry again, my worst fear had come true, my grandpa was crying. My whole world was changing; the one person I had relied on to stay strong had broke down.
Wendy’s death brought on new fears for me. How was my family going to change? Who else might I lose?
A month went by and I pretended to be okay. I cried whenever I was alone, and I didn’t understand why. She had been my aunt, but we were not very close. Some days I would have to leave the room if her name was even mentioned. No one saw me cry so nobody knew how much I was hurting. At school I pretended to be happy. I laughed at jokes that I didn’t find funny, and when I wanted to burst into tears, I put on a smile instead. I tired to go back to being a normal, carefree teenager, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t be that girl anymore. To me she had died with Wendy. In that girl’s place was someone afraid. She was afraid to move on with her memories, afraid to be happy again.
A year went by and that girl I had become moved on. Although I didn’t forget Wendy, I moved on with my life. I stopped being scared of losing my family and spent every minute I could with them instead. I didn’t need a fake smile anymore because I was truly happy. Her death forever changed me, but in the end I believe I am better because of it.
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