My uncle killed himself in October. As if that situation wasn’t stressful enough, rumor had it that all three of his former wives were going to attend the funeral. The rest of the extended family had to make some decisions: drive the umpteen miles to Nowheresville, Georgia for the funeral or wait until Christmas to be together as a family. Leigh decided to make the trip without her husband, three children in tow, all the way from New York State.
It’s not like she hadn’t made the trip before. As a teenager my sister traversed I-95 more times than an ABF truck. Back then a prehistoric Sprint cell phone, Subway and mix tapes were all she needed to make the hours fly by. Now, their 2008 Honda Odyssey was equipped with a DVD player and stocked with the latest Pixar flicks. Two days after Tommy’s death, the mobile day-care flew quickly through the seaboard states, set south for the suicide service.
A stubborn teenager crammed in a four year old body? That’s Liam, my nephew.
He’s the only boy, stuck in the middle of two sweet-tempered girls. By the time the Odyssey had made its thousand-mile journey, Liam had also driven–my sister insane. When they pulled up to the funeral home and piled out of the van, Leigh filled her upper body with the body of her youngest child, and her right hand with the hand of her oldest.
Liam stood behind the pyramid of women, with his shirt untucked, shoes off, and scowl on. Leigh looked at me in desperation. She whispered to me that she couldn’t deal with him any longer. I assured her that I could, and shooed the girls into the funeral home. That was the situation I couldn’t deal with.
Liam’s attitude mirrored how I felt inside. The difference was, I knew how to hide mine beneath a black dress and years of supposed maturity. Turning his famous stink-eye in my direction, Liam’s tears finally brought my own to the surface. As the rest of the family gathered around Tommy’s empty golf-bag, my arms gathered around Liam, pulling him close to me.
Then, in a moment of sheer genius, I remembered the bag of candy in the backseat of my car. Liam dug his hands through the bag while I tucked his shirt in, and put his shoes on. He chose pop rocks: sweet but shocking.
A few minutes later, Liam and I walked down the center aisle, holding hands while the congregation sang. Leigh sighed a grateful sigh, thankful that Liam had donned his shoes and a brighter countenance. The family stood together sadly, peacefully, but we were missing a few. Lindsay, my middle sister, couldn’t make it from Texas. And Tommy, my uncle, who left us so unexpectedly.
That’s when I decided that many of life’s most meaningful moments are like the pop rocks my nephew chose: sweet, but shocking.