When my grandfather died, we all put our own mementos in his casket: sentimental photographs, print-out copies of lyrics to songs, and dirt from the fields he spent decades upon decades tilling, planting, and harvesting. Each was a remembrance, a memory, a hope that maybe these things could help him cross to the other side and us let him. It was our pithy way of feeling like we might have some control over the situation.
After the funeral, the burial, the melancholy luncheon that allows everyone to feel temporarily normal–as if we were at a family birthday instead of a funeral reception–and so painfully punctuates the reason why we are gathering in the first place (Who would sit at the head of the table? Who will say grace), we were back at my parents house, changing back into our ordinary clothes, pretending to not feel hollow.
I walked upstairs to my childhood room that already felt unfamiliar after only 1 year at college, and passed my dad, undoing his tie in his room.
We talked awkwardly, professionally, about details of the day’s events: who was there, the name of the woman in the choir who sang amazing grace, the quality of the meatballs served afterward.
“What did you put in Pop Pop’s coffin?” he finally asked.
I mentioned the lyrics (“I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” and “In My Life”) and the letter (I honestly can’t remember a single word I wrote), then listed the things my sibling and cousins had included.
“What about you dad? Did you put anything in there?”
“I put my father in there… And that was the hardest part.”