The Secret of the Coffin

For too many people, a coffin holds a secret.

The death of a loved one is born in many ways: Some exhibit tears. Some are silently stoic. Some jabber to hide the pain.

Cancer was killing Daddy. I knew cancer was killing Daddy. I knew cancer was killing Daddy and it wouldn’t be long coming.

I didn’t believe it. Not a word.

Momma told me about his decision to forego treatment because it would give him six, maybe, more months of living. Yes, the living would’ve been life, but what is life while a machine is pulsing radiation into your brain and while chemicals turn you into a withered shell of your former self? Like when a spider liquefies its victim’s insides for its meal.

At the hospital, Daddy explained his reasoning. My tears told him I understood. And I cried no more.

Not even when the family watched him take his last breath.

The spider had sucked me dry of emotion and replaced it with The Secret of the Coffin. Then again, there’s another possible consideration: When the funeral home personnel said we could come see him, we did. Why I saw him in his coffin, its Secret liquefied my insides. My Daddy was dead, dead, dead, dead, and nothing would change that.

The ocean of me flowed, salty and hateful and draining me of my last vestiges of denial.

MY DADDY WAS DEAD, DEAD, DEAD, DEAD AND NOTHING WOULD CHANGE THAT.

That was/is the saddest day of my life; many know what I mean.

When a boy has a great daddy–one who shared those sacred boyhood passions like fishing to name only one–it means more than any fish.

I can still see him in my mind’s eye: I can smell the sweet and savory aroma of pipe tobacco. I can see the slight opening of his two top-center teeth, what I called in a short story I wrote about him, “his gap-toothed grin.” I can feel his arms around me when he understood the importance of telling his grown son he loved him. I can feel his confidence when he was my best man during my second marriage, now in its twenty-fifth year.

No matter how much I know it’s wrong to allow it, regrets sometimes nibble around the edge of my heart: ants on the core of an apple turning brown in the summer sun. As time passes, I can’t decide if those minuscule bites hurt more or less.

This year I aged a year past his age when he died. Another ant to nibble.

Despite how it might sound, the ants and spiders are losing.

Daddy died the year he was my best man. The last thing he told me about my marriage was to “just love one another.”

Simple words from a man who must’ve had hidden complications; I can’t help but feel he, like most parents, are panes of glass when we glance but mirrors when we look.

One ant leaves, another takes its place, but since I understand them, they leave more often than they arrive.

Just love one another.

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