Looking back to look forward

Apr 12, 2022 | Fleischaker/Greene, Spotlight

(Editor’s note: Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash.)

By Hannah Claussen

I stepped out of the car on a chilly Friday in October.

My heels sunk into the soft dirt, so I walked on my toes. My eyes stayed trained on the ground. I knew before I opened the door that everyone would watch me.

It is my father’s funeral, after all.

 For some reason, 14-year-old me could not bear to look at all the faces, but I glanced up for a second. I can still see the image of a crowd of people gathered around the funeral home tent.

“They’re all here for us,” I thought.

 I walked surrounded by my family to the front row of the tent. Through my years of funerals, I have learned that no one wants to sit in the front row. It’s reserved for the family closest to the loved one. Those seats are for those in the most pain. The preachers speak directly to those people. They tell me they know how much my dad loved me. 

I know he did. But I don’t like to sit in the front row. It was cold, and I felt every vulnerable. 

Everyone watching me translated to pressure closing while I shivered. 

How was supposed to act? I didn’t have tears — an empty storm cloud. It rained, so I guess the sky cried for me.

Shouldn’t I cry?

It’s been a week exactly since we got the phone call. 

All I knew was that my uncle called my mom — which was odd because my parents have been divorced for a while, and my mom doesn’t talk to my dad’s family much.

 She went outside to talk. She was gone for a long time. My fear built. I’d been calling my dad all morning, but he didn’t answer.

My mother retuned, and I knew something was wrong. 

He shot himself. I did not want to believe it, but I dd.

He’s always struggled with depression, so I guess it isn’t shocking. But it is.

They were flying him to a hospital in Nashville. I translated to hope — hope I hung onto until the official news arrived that afternoon. 

I feel alone even though someone’s arms wrapped around me — then someone else’s.

I sank to my knees crying until someone convinced me to come eat pizza and try to breathe. 

So I did, even though I’m not hungry.

The following days passed slowly. 

We planned the funeral. We chose pretty flowers. I wore my dad’s shirts almost all. We got showered with love and prayers from everyone we knew and many we didn’t — a beautiful outpouring of Christ-like love.

I found solace in it. 

I hung onto Jesus, and Jesus hangs on to me. To this day, that’s how I function. 

I cut my hair, even though my instinct said keep everything the way my dad knew it.

But I knew that wasn’t feasible. 

I put on my best dress, heels and blazer — the color scheme as cold as the weather. 

There was no visitation, so we gathered at the funeral home.

I found the flowers we bought — red carnations, his favorite color, arranged on a wooden cross. My daddy loved Jesus with all his heart. He’s with Him now. It felt like the perfect choice. A small gold banner hung across the flowers — “DAD” in all capital letters. He would have loved it. The funeral home attendants load the flowers into their cars. 

I don’t remember getting in the car. 

All I remember is getting out.

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