Buried, hidden, lost in the dark, are the things we ached to forget.
We dug holes and built walls until we could finally move on,
Until nothing was left to forget.
The man didn’t cry as he listened to the dirt slapping against the smooth pine box, though the corner of his eye twitched every time a carelessly tossed rock chipped the lacquered lid. He barely felt the hand gripping his, though he knew it was soft and warm. Knew it belonged to his wife. Knew she was probably losing feeling in the tips of her fingers from how tightly he squeezed it. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to care just then, or even loosen his grip. Holding on as though it were all that kept him from falling to his knees to desperately scoop the earth from the hole, until he could lift the lid and see his daughter’s face one more time.
He could hear it in his head still, the way she had cried when the doctors told her she was going to die. She had not been brave about it at the end, and he didn’t blame her. To spend so long being told that a few more tests, a few more treatments, a few more months, and everything would be alright; only to have all hope stripped away from you by a labcoat-clad virgin armed with a Lumbar Puncture and a medical degree. He would have cried too, he supposed. Would have sobbed, and begged, and drowned in terror. Would have given up the way she had.
The breeze swirled through the small group of people gathered around the man, his wife, and the box holding the pale and lifeless thing that used to be their daughter. At first they had wanted to do an open casket, he remembered. Until they realized they couldn’t bear the way the chemotherapy had eaten Rani from the inside out that last month, leaving nothing but a withered, broken husk that begged to be hidden away and never shown. They had refused to allow her to be remembered that way, instead of as she was. Before Leukemia took everything she had to give, and hopelessness stole the rest.
It was far too nice of a day to be burying his only child. The sun was gentle and constant, and the breeze laughed softly through the leafy-green cloaks wrapped around every tree as it skimmed invisible fingers along the rich grass, murmuring encouragingly to weary flowers, propping them up with whispers of joy and beauty and sunshine. It should be raining, he thought, with lightning threading vicious fingers through the sky and thunder roaring in protest.
The man’s gaze wandered unbidden across the still open grave, settling on his sister, her face a thin mask of composure thinly veiling her own misery. Lips pressed into a hard white line, so tightly he was sure it would be impossible for the color to come back into them. Beside her, Aria clutched the black fabric of her mother’s skirt like it was a lifeline. As though it was the only thing holding her back from joining her cousin in the gaping chasm of a grave at their feet. She stood at the edge of a cliff, holding on by a fingertip. Staring over into the sea that raged below: a sea of confusion and reality. The confusion of knowing someone you loved would soon be reduced to bones and rags, and a reality where best friends died - locked away forever in a polished pine box that would never be opened.
Shame beat against the inside of his chest. I am not the only one in pain. Closing his eyes, he took a long breath. Letting the tears burn hot in his eyes and run down his face, he turned and wrapped his arms around his wife, pulling her so tightly to him that he could feel her heart pounding, feel the pain in the way her shoulders heaved as she let herself break down, sobbing and shuddering against his chest.
They stood that way until the grave was filled and the earth had swallowed their daughter, leaving only an etched stone slab standing as a reminder. A reminder that, here, in this forest of tombstones, gravemarkers, and wilting flowers, a mother and a father said goodbye to the thing they had loved most in the world.
They stood there, in the gentle sunlight, each breaking apart, each holding on so tightly that no pieces could float so far that they could not be gathered up again. They stood together at the foot of Rani’s grave. With trees sighing and murmuring all around them, and flowers bowing and dipping in the breeze as they spread petals towards the sky, they stood together. Heartbroken, lost, miserable, and together; they missed her.
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