by Manuela R., 12
I look around the room at second, third, and fourth cousins, great aunts and great uncles who I haven’t seen since Christmas when I was eight. I straighten my hair, pat down my black dress, and smile. I look older because that’s what they tell me. I look pretty and proper. I look presentable. I turn my cheeks to my distant family members to let them kiss me. I hear the words, I’m sorry, being whispered into my ear. My smile drops. I don’t know how to respond. I know she’s my great grandmother. But that’s about it. I didn’t know what her favorite color was until I saw the yellow flowers that decorate her casket. I didn’t know the exact number of kids she had until my great uncle read the eulogy. I didn’t know the story of how she met my great grandfather until my mom told me on our way to the funeral home. How to accept an apology for the death of someone I barely knew? But that’s only part of the struggle. To face the grave is next. To say goodbye and to say a prayer. What should I say? I love you is the obvious answer. But it’s not about what to say. It’s about how to walk. How to walk down the dim lit room full of grieving relatives—their names unknown—kneel down and say hi and goodbye for the very last time because I’ve seen this woman’s face many times before. The videos are proof. It may seem like this is my very first time seeing her but the videos are proof. The videos of her holding me as a baby. I look up at her. The room is in awe of a new little life. My parents are beaming with joy because life is good. Because I am there and so is she. But right now I need to face the grave.
Red Bank, New Jersey
Notes from our interns on selecting this piece: This relatable story captures the complex emotions and challenges of attending a funeral for a distant relative. It highlights the struggle of navigating unfamiliar family dynamics and processing the loss of someone who was essentially a stranger, while also acknowledging the significance of shared memories and family connections.