Initial Circle

Today his ashes are in a coffee can, as if grounds. He was a lover of caffeine. At his funeral the can was displayed in front of a diorama with panels of photographs, artwork and ephemera from Kevin’s life. I recall the diffuse light in the parlor, the folded chairs opened and filed in pathetic rows. Music played, but I cannot recall the tune. There was a podium with a microphone. There were family and friends, people who knew my brother well, but perhaps from a long time ago. There were others who’d just begun to know him. We regarded each other suspiciously each sect enacting traditions and poses, homily, in deference to their version of the man, each in a rhetoric and physicality laying particular claim for authenticity. It was in the motions and words of those that knew my brother most of his life and those who entered his life late that I began to wonder. I studied kith and kin; I observed the acquaintances, their languid bodies; their shuddering silence, for clues. My parents were automatons, masking themselves through performances wrought by dour upbringings. My bronchial father sniffed. My mother sat with her shoulders stooped, hands gripping tissue in her lap. My siblings ambled, dumb, the color of chalk; they exchanged glances before taking their places. I sat conjuring Kevin from my own soul’s keep. In there he bobbed in black Lethe water encircled in masonry, going under, coming up, going under, and coming up. Each time he was someone new as if the waters were black ink and he was written anew with each surfacing. Of course, in the cacophony of funerals there is a roaring silence. Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do… The office of the dead has a secretary taking notes. I wondered what He’d think of all this. I wondered if he was jonesing for a cigarette.

The experience of helping the organization, and attending, my older brother’s funeral would be a profound one, profane and numbing at the time, but growing more and more enlivening and sacred with time. It’s like the explanation for exponential change, how it arrives imperceptibly and then one day simply explodes and things are irrevocably changed. Sometimes the holes in front of us are invisible and only become visible, when it is too late, or a point of some kind has been reached and there is no return. Kevin’s funeral is the first funeral for the immediate family. Relatives, family, had passed away in Scotland, but for the most part we could not attend to those deaths. Those were distant passing of cousins, uncles and aunts vaguely familiar to me. They were childhood memories of head scarves, candy and strange accents. They lived far away and their deaths were so removed from me to allow me to continually deny its existence. It was something that happened over there, not here, near my heart. I had lamented publicly the passing of a grandfather, the only grandparent I’d known as a child, but still it was more about their passing than my own shedding or transformation. Death is often more about what it does to the left behind than those who have departed. In essence, I had not been altered by death close to me. Pets died, but not family. Kevin was the first, an unexpected first. His death blew a hole in us. It was a gap that began to appear years before it tore open fully; it was opened and closed just a year previous. Ironically, or tragically, just days before a family reunion centered on my mother’s birthday Kevin had an accident and ended up in hospital. He’d been drinking and in his merriment had leaped for a streetlight—to swing on it perhaps, who knows—and he missed. My brother sailed through the air and landed on his back, his head striking the pavement and splitting open. Hindus smash skulls on the banks of the Ganges to release the soul. Maybe on that dark night, tendrils of my brother’s soul rose from his fissure, making its way into the shadows. And from that moment on, Kevin began dying; his blood trickled thick and stubborn, soul entropied, and then left in a gush, him being unable to stem its flowing. A year later he would be dead. 

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