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A Child's View
The room was cold and nearly empty but for a few family members. Beautiful flower arrangements decorated the wall beside the casket in a feeble attempt to "brighten" the silent, dreary mood.

The empty chairs were all perfectly lined up like soldiers saluting a fallen general. On the stark white walls hung soft-dimmed lights that were greatly overpowered by the hot, fall sun that shone through the windows.

Alone at the casket, I contemplated the reasoning behind the "loss" of my great uncle. The greater my thought, the greater the number of questions. My cousin joined me after awhile. Maybe, being many years my senior, she sensed my confusion or heard the unspoken questions that were turning over and over in my head, wanting to be asked. With her appearance at my side, more questions were born and helped to increase the population of an already overcrowded brain.

"Why is everyone crying when they have said that my uncle is no longer suffering, is being well-taken care of, and is in no pain? If nothing is wrong, why does everyone come to me and say, 'It's ok, it's ok'? Why do all dead people have their hands crossed in front of them? Why does he look like this?"

"Should I ask my cousin? No, I should be nice, this is her father," and other assorted thoughts ran chaotically around like ants after their home is destroyed by a strong wind before a storm.

"Daddy is at peace now," she said calmly and quietly. Peace was a word I understood. It meant "no war or battle between men." But my uncle had not been in a war. He had never shot a gun like a soldier had. He was not "at peace"; he was dead and that meant his life was over, no longer would he be HERE!

"He's gone to heaven and someday we will all join him. He's happy now." my cousin continued. These words were meant to be soothing to hear, to enlighten the heart that was experiencing grief and sorrow. But I was not grieving or sad, I was confused.

Grandpa had died and was in heaven. But what was heaven? People cried at funerals and my cousin was not crying. Didn't she love her father, didn't she know he was gone forever, never to be seen again?

Then she did what seemed to me an unforgiveable act. She reached into the casket and gently straightened his lapel. All thoughts that had previously cluttered my brain faded into nothingness. Their simple little basis of existence was completely of no worth compared to this horrifying thing she had done. How could she? He was dead. You're not supposed to touch a dead person.

But she continued, all the while explaining to me the fundamentals of death and heaven; how my uncle, himself, as we knew him, was not here anymore-straighten the cuffs-that this was just his shell -- not his body. His soul was in heaven. Then as she rubbed his hands lightly, she said, "See, he's cold and hard. Go on and touch him."

I turned my head to look up at her. My eyes were wide with disbelief as my jaw bone turned to jelly to expose the contents of my mouth. How could this woman, as old as my mother, suggest such a ludicrous thing to a child? She was supposed to know better. I expected her to give me answers to my questions, not ask me to touch him.

She looked back at me with eyes that clearly showed the grief and pain of the loss of her father and yet also begging me to at least try to fulfill her request. "It's o.k. Just touch him," she said.

Time moved slowly yet quickly as I attempted to put my arm into motion. She had asked me to do this one thing and I should oblige her. Eventually, the blood rushing through my body collected in my arm to bring my hand up and over the edge of the casket and down onto the sleeve of his jacket. There! That was good enough, Right?

"See how cold he is," she said softly.

Cold. That was something I was not. My blood ran through my veins like a fire through an old house, engulfing every part of my body. Slowly, I forced my hand to his.

At that moment, every fear I had came to a screeching halt. I was no longer confused. His hand was cold and hard like a doll's that was made of soft plastic. I experienced the feeling of emptiness. My uncle was not lying in the casket. This wasn't him. Everything my cousin had said was true.

An unexplainable feeling of calm quietness enveloped me. All the unasked questions seemed answered at last, stripped of their ability to torture me further. The heat that coursed through my veins cooled as if dowsed with water.

It was then I understood another meaning for "peace". The "peace" my uncle now felt was the end of his battle and he had won. In a small form, this peace was passed on to me from the shell he left behind.

My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26.

� Joan Downen

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