The Passing - Charlotte Foote

When they are gone, we receive a call. Ominous, choked up, sorry. We react in different ways; it hits us in different places. We leak sorrow, we choke on our pain. Our chests heave, our heads spin. Some remain silent. Those who share their blood are responsible for the aftermath. They seal the news in little envelopes or whisper it through telephone wires. Remember with us. We discuss it over cold dinners and wrap each other in limbs so our insides don’t fall out. We tell the children that they have passed on, that they are resting, that they have sprouted wings. Heaven, we croon. Eternal glory rings sweeter than eternal nothingness: it is easier to comprehend than oblivion. What is science in the face of sorrow anyhow? Congregating in cold stone buildings, we recall the wisdom they imparted upon us, the mark they left on the world. As if one so small could leave a mark upon a universe so vast. They were curiosity and sunshine, we say, they were laughter and the smell of cinnamon. They will be missed. That, at least, is the truth. Some place their bodies in wooden boxes, paint life back into their cheeks, find comfort in the superficial blush. Ignore the ice-cold shock of their hands. Remember instead the warmth of their touch, their lips, their smile. Some burn the remnants. Throw them to the winds, feed them to the tides, keep them in an urn upon the mantle next to last year’s school pictures. Some pile dirt upon the memories in hopes of suffocation. It is hard to breathe sometimes. It is hard to move. Our bodies ache. We drag our toes and scuff our boots; black weighs heavy on our shoulders. It is the hue of sadness, they tell us. It is space and matter and the unknown. Humankind fears the unknown. We have assigned it a color; we have compartmentalized; it is easier that way. Digestible. Forced to think more than usual, we are acutely aware of our fragility. We feel the blood coursing through our veins; we feel our hearts pumping triumphant in our chests. Thump. Thump. We are alive. It is terrifying and exhilarating. We wonder where they have gone, where we will go when our turn comes. We hear their favorite song on the radio and drive around the block twice until it’s finished; we wipe our eyes and smile. We swear that we can feel their presence. Loss stretches the capacity of reason, so we wrap ourselves in the illusion of company. Casseroles pile up by the door. It is the only acceptable time to combine macaroni and Mexican food; we poke it with our forks and taste condolences on our tongues. Good intentions start to make us nauseous. Flowers smell sickly sweet and artificial. Sorry for your loss. The petals begin to wilt. Nobody bothers to water them. We frantically page through photo albums in an attempt to remember the crooked tilt of their smile. Our recall is fuzzy, out of focus. The sound of laughter cannot be found between the pages. Time passes. We forget to think of them when we sit in their favorite armchair. We feel ashamed. We feel relieved. We have long ago stopped leaking sorrow. Years later, our children’s children thumb through family trees and do not know their name. How strange, we think, to be forgotten. How strange to one day be here, and the next day gone. Their name was once walking, breathing, tangible. It leapt across the earth. Generations later, it is said for the very last time. Then gone. How fleeting, we think, is the human life.