And in those pictures, taken just a couple weeks before she died, I could see the loose skin hanging on the stick-thin arms that I just knew had to have been Gram. Finally, one of the pictures showed her head-on, holding the baby to her chest. She looked horrible, wasted away almost to nothing. That image burned itself into my memory, still burns there, and the pictures of her in her youth and from just a few years ago, beside the closed casket, only remind me of how she actually looked when she died.
I stay behind, ignoring the disdainful looks I'm cast for doing so, and walk out with Mom after she takes her moment with the casket. She's holding on to my hand so tight I almost worry she'll break something.
The six pallbearers are my six male cousins, a number that came out to be an eerily perfect fit. Three are noticeably shorter than the others, which looks like it might make carrying the casket awkward, but they manage well enough. They get the bouquets and floral arrangements out first, taking them to the funeral director's station wagon and tucking them in the back, then head back into the funeral home for the casket. It goes into the hearse with little fuss, and soon everyone is piling into their cars to follow after.
Mom says nothing on the way to the cemetery. The route takes us by Gram and Gramp's house, and I wonder if anyone asked the funeral director to do that. In about ten minutes, though, we're at the cemetery.
Gram's casket is set on the contraption that will lower her into the freshly-dug grave, and my cousins spread the flowers around her once more. The reverend says a few more words, and then the group begins to break up. I turn to hug Mom, and as my arms go around her waist am suddenly shocked stiff as a board by what I see over her shoulder.
Hanging back, near the end of the whole group, is Dad.
I whisper a warning to Mom, and she stiffens up as well. Neither of us expected – wanted – to see him here. I haven't seen him since high school. I kiss Mom on the cheek and disengage... because if I don't intercept him, then Dad will try to talk to Mom, and he'll say something stupid like he always does.