For some reason I remember the weather that day as sunny and cold. Paterson, New Jersey. In a Roman Catholic church I know I have been in a lot, but only remember break-dancing at the summer cook outs they had behind the school. Like most churches, this one was usually filled with elderly people, begging for mercy in their final years. Before they ascend into the fictitious hell or heaven they believed in. Today was slightly different. There was a very mixed crowd. Their ages ranging from three to eighty-three. All of their faces familiar. Some of them close family members; some of them I knew were related to me, even though I can’t remember how or when I last saw them. I was standing on the right hand side of the aisle. Six of us lined up, casket in hand.
Usually, when our family has these gatherings it would be the six brothers: my uncles Art, Jim, John, Mike, Bob, and my father, Tom. Today, I was promoted to pallbearer. The last time the brothers lined up like this my grandmother was between them, inside. That was seven years ago. This time Uncle Mike, Fat Mike as we called him, was in the center being carried. And with him passing in his sleep, I was promoted.
Most of the memories are a blur. I remember it started to rain when we finally drove to the church. A large dump-truck was driving in a rush and hydroplaned into the procession line, almost taking out Uncle Jimmy’s car.
As I stood in the aisle, I was uncomfortable, as I always am when I am around my father's family. I looked around for support. Most people just prayed there, looking up, probably asking God why he would take away Uncle Mike at such a young age. I glanced over at my grandfather. Surrounded by my aunts, he barely had any expression on his face, besides obvious grief. Much like how he looked when Nana passed away. I felt so frustrated for my grandfather. Your children should not pass-on before you do, especially when they’re only in their early-thirties.
The coffin was heavy, and cold. I think one of my uncles nervously made a joke about Mike’s weight. As we all did throughout his life, but only after he would have a comment for us.
The organ started. We all jumped slightly, knowing this would be the last contact with Mike we would have physically. Every one in the pews slowly rose. We slowly headed towards the double-doors. I hated the thought that this was the only way the family ever got together, yet I knew it to be the entire truth. I hardly ever saw my father, let alone the rest of the family. Everyone was quiet among the pallbearers. Except Uncle John, who quietly wept, almost letting go of the casket entirely. We struggled to keep Mike up as someone gave John a few words of support. We got to the stairs and paused to make sure everyone was ready for the last of the haul. Slowly the people from inside filed out and spread among the grass and sides of the staircase. We slowly positioned the coffin into the back of the hearse. As we let the car take on more of the weight I realized just how heavy it was. I heard my father weep something to himself as we pushed. When the end of the casket was in, I backed away.
My father turned to face me. I reached up to him and hugged him. My father rested his head in my shoulder and cried ‘God Damn It!’ We stood there for a minute or two. Now calm, my father let go and walked over to his other brothers. We then went to the graveyard and the party afterward. Most detail after that becomes a blur.
That was the first time my father ever cried to me like that. And the last time I can remember hugging him.