Eleven year old Cassie Gleeson stood at the casket. Grandpa was the first dead body she’d seen. She stared intently. The room was as severe and chill as a church. No one had ever had fun here. She tugged at her uncomfortable black dress. Cassie had been prepped by her parents to speak softly, like at a show. They’d also told her what to expect at the coffin. However, she was naturally curious and preferred to draw her own conclusions. Cassie was learning that her parents didn’t always include/stress the important stuff.
Since Grandpa’s relatives lived in several states, they’d made arrangements over the phone and delayed the memorial service to allow for travel. Cassie’s family was the first to arrive for the wake. Others were entering the funeral parlor and exchanging quiet condolences.
Lost in his thoughts, her father gazed at the wall with watery eyes. She pulled on his sleeve, “Dad, that’s not Grandpa.”
Aware Cassie didn’t want her grandfather to be gone, he said. “I miss him too, dear. But, he’s in a better place. With Grandma.”
“But, it doesn’t look like him.”
Regretting the decision to let Cassie view the body, he comforted her, “That’s just how people look when they die. They look different.”
Cassie turned back to the coffin, “Then what happened to his scar? The one from the war. Does that go away when you die?”
Shaken from his daze, her father finally examined the cadaver. It had been several days after the heart attack before the body was found, therefore, the gaunt face was heavily made-up. The body was dressed in Grandpa’s best suit and his wedding picture rested on his chest. But, Cassie was correct, the scar on his neck wasn’t there.
His heart sank. He brought Cassie to her mother, then led his brother to the coffin. After a few moments, Cassie saw them pull the funeral director aside, and, with fists waving, direct angry questions at him.
The undertaker was used to dealing with emotional relatives, but this was different. He rushed to his office to investigate. Word spread and upset people became even more distraught. In the confusion, Cassie slipped away and huddled with her cousins. The children had been schooled on the proper solemn behavior. However, the gloomy event had suddenly become exciting. Their instructions were forgotten. One of the kids shouted, “Somebody stole Grandpa!” He was shushed and escorted from the room.
When the funeral director returned, he was ashen as the body in the casket. The adults pressed close in a silent and tense knot. By now, everyone assumed the worst, but hoped for a miracle. In a choked voice, he said, “there’s been a terrible mistake.”
The dam burst and the rest of his explanation was mostly lost in wails, and curses that were rarely heard in the somber room.
“Two similar bodies arrived on the same day. Somehow, they were switched. Mr. Gleeson has been cremated and his ashes already spread.”
“We don’t believe in cremation,” a woman moaned amid tears. “Now, he can’t rise at the Rapture and be with us again”. Confused, Cassie looked at her Aunt. She was taught ghosts weren’t real, but, this sounded a lot like a ghost. Another relative added, “We won’t get a chance to say goodbye to him.” Cassie didn’t think dead people could hear you. And, if Grandpa was ‘in a better place’ with Grandma, why did this matter?
She stepped back to the casket where somebody’s grandfather lay peaceful and oblivious to the commotion. If he could hear her, she didn’t want him to be lonely. Cassie whispered, “Goodbye.”
After law school, Bill Diamond worked for the federal government. It taught him patience, that persistence can pay off in progress, and an appreciation for the outlandish.