Where Memories Hang

People always describe the weather during funerals. They do it in books or movies. It's either raining, and: wow, how fitting, right? Or, it's bright and sunny, and: how dare the sun shine during this day of death?

But why is that the way it goes? Why not describe the wind, which blows harsh and cold against your skin? Why not describe how the birds still sing in spite of that cold? Or the way the ground feels solid beneath your feet, telling of just how many shoes have walked through this cemetery? Why not note the tang of freshly turned earth in the air? Why not mention the quiet but ever-present noise of people trying to hide their crying, though we all know it's happening?

These are the things we really notice during funerals, when the senses are sharp and raw from grief. These are the things you notice while you stand in front of your grandmother's grave. The dirt here is fresh, mounded, and yet to be tamped by the feet of those who come to visit the graves. People are trickling away, no longer comfortable with how close they stand to death and desiring to return to living their lives.

People will leave the cemetery and, with that, leave your grandmother behind. You're no different. You'll have to leave her grave eventually, too. And when that happens, it'll be easier. You won't have to look at that fresh dirt that makes your gut twist and your eyes sting. You can go home and buy some expensive coffee and stop to pet your neighbor's dog before remembering: oh yeah, she's dead. But if you're not here, at this grave, then maybe your every thought won't be of her. Maybe just some thoughts.

In a week, you'll return to her grave and replace the sagging flowers with fresh ones. You'll come each week for the next few weeks, but eventually you'll stop. You might tell yourself you owe her more than that, but you'll always find a reason why today's not a good day to visit. The cat needs to go to the vet; the neighbors said they might come over today; there are gray clouds in the sky so it might rain, and you really just can't right now.

Eventually, you'll only return once a year, on the day of her death. On those days, you'll light incense sticks and stab them into the ground in front of her headstone; watch the sticks smolder down to ash. This grave is where your memories of her will hang, and you'll take them down one by one each time you visit. You'll think about how she was when she was young, and you were just a kid. How she would give you piggy-back rides around her house until her back hurt too much, and she had to sit down. How she made you a ham and cheese sandwich whenever you came over and knew to cut it into two triangles, because that's the only way you'd eat it.

And then, maybe after a few years, you'll think about how you're forgetting the sound of her voice. That's the first thing to go when someone leaves you, after all. A person's voice, so recognizable yet so quick to decay. You'll find yourself questioning your memories: her voice was low and thick, right? Wasn't it also soft and gentle? What did she sound like when she was angry? When she was sad? You won't ever be certain. And you'll refuse to ask your dad for those old family videos to prove anything.

But for now, you sit in your grief at her funeral, not caring about the future but for the fact that she won't be in it. There's grass that edges the fresh soil of her grave, waiting for the chance to take root and cover up that empty patch. And despite it all, you take comfort in that and what this new home might give her. The grass and all its life to keep her company. The wind to rustle the tree branches and inspire the birds to sing for her. The scent of incense and flowers sweetening the air above her grave. And the people who come to visit her, if only to keep her memory alive.