I was born in a funeral home, surrounded by death. Everyone said my father changed when Mother passed away that day. Though he never verbally blamed me for her leaving, I wondered if he wished I’d died instead of her.
“Your father is afraid, Edward.” Grandmother told me more than once. “He’s afraid to live and love because he believes life ends with death.”
I wanted to argue with her. I’d seen enough corpses to know that life did end with death. Only a fool would think otherwise. But Father had taught me to be respectful and so I held my tongue.
Growing up in a funeral home was a somber experience. Father did the best he could and required I do my part. I learned about hard work and family heritage while taking care of the family business alongside my father. My favorite job was dusting the heirloom pieces in the many curio cabinets scattered about the large Victorian house. So many lives were represented on those glass shelves.
“They live on only in our memory.” Father said when I asked again about our ancestors. He was a soft-spoken man of few words. Yet, he carried himself with dignity and taught me to do the same when my classmates began taunting.
“They speak in ignorance, Edward. They, too, will one day need our services.”
I watched the boys playing ball down the street as I cleaned the many leaded glass windows. Part of me longed to join them, but my dark suit and solemn behavior made others my age uncomfortable. Since I wasn’t welcome to join the boys my age, I lost myself in quiet pursuits, my skin rarely seeing the light of day.
“You are too pale, Edward.” Grandmother scolded the summer I turned sixteen. “You are coming to the farm with me. This house has sucked the life out of you.”
I didn’t want me to go but Grandmother would not be deterred. I packed my suits and my chess board. Little did I realize that my suits would only be used for Sunday and my chess board on infrequent rainy days. Life on the farm was like nothing I had known.
At first, the sun hurt my eyes and my skin burned under its unforgiving rays. But soon, my body adjusted. I learned about milking cows and gathering eggs. As I grew stronger, I assisted with the haying. The cough I’d constantly carried disappeared in the country air. I felt alive for the first time.
While my father insisted I go to church every Sunday while at home, I never experienced anything like my Grandmother’s church. The preacher wasn’t dry and stuffy like the man back home. He spoke from the heart and made compelling arguments that even I could not turn away from. Before the summer finished, I embraced the idea that death isn’t the end but only the beginning of forever. My grandmother was overjoyed.
My father was not.
“Keep your theories to yourself.” Father warned when I explained my decision again. “Those words may comfort you, but we both know the truth. Death is the end.”
I opened my mouth to argue but he silenced me with a glance, just as he did numerous times over the following years.
A stately Victorian stands proudly at the end of Ash Drive, the large sign clearly proclaiming Martin Funeral Home, est. 1896, my father’s life work and my inheritance.
I was overseas when the call came. I wanted to be here for him, but Father sometime while I was over the Atlantic.
Associates I’ve known most of my life greet me with condolences and quiet words of comfort. I ask to see him. My father lays in one of our best coffins. My heart aches as I see him there and wonder if he ever opened his heart to the hope and promises of God’s love. Tears blur my vision as I touch his cold hand.
“I’m here.” The words burn in my throat. “I just wish I knew where you were.” I bow my head and ask for strength from the One who promises that death is not the end, just the beginning.
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