what they don’t tell you about funerals is that nothing ever feels real in that too-cold room. not the flowers. not the food. not the rooms in the back your uncles stayed in to keep watch. not the ill-fitting white t-shirt your father made you purchase yesterday. not the sad smile on your grandmother’s face instead of her usual bright ones. and certainly not the dead body of your grandfather in the epicenter, still as the corpse he is and none like the grandparent you grew up with.
there was no such thing as an open casket in your family, which was good, you suppose. it’d be too much to see his face without his usual frown. the smell was off. like tea and incense and flower petals—the ones you used to bathe the buddhist statues at the vihara every new year.
the catered pork ribs taste like sandpaper. you keep waiting for the buttery taste of your grandfather’s recipe to hit your tongue but you are met with msg. it was one of the many disappointments you encountered in those three days, three absences from school. none of your friends checked up on you further than to offer their “deepest condolences”. your crush has not texted you back. you drink bottled mineral water as your mother fights with your father, whose father had just died, again.
by the time the ceremony comes you are confronted with the gold of the casket up close. you wonder if it was real gold. a few hours ago your little cousins, yet to understand the concept of death, tugged at your sleeves and asked when grandpa would be home. you sealed your lips shut and let your younger cousin handle them like she always does. because you’re not ready to admit that you don’t understand death either; not in second grade when the dragonfly your classmates cruelly stomped on no longer flew, not even less than a month later, when your other grandfather passes.
you whisper words of prayer in the mother tongue you no longer remember. your cousin sheds a tear in front of you and you wonder if it’d be appropriate to console her now. you think about how much your kneecaps hurt from kneeling for a long time. your aunt’s cries perfectly masked the buzzing phone you sneaked into your pocket. later that night, your third uncle told everyone that he saw his father-in-law welcomed by guan yin herself; you wonder if it was true, or merely another lie adults tell kids and themselves to feel better about the nonsensical nature of mortality.
what they don’t tell you about funerals is how much like a fever dream they are. when the proceedings are over you drive straight home. home smells like home and your maid made your bed like usual. the stuffed bear on your pillow has not moved since the morning. it is 11 pm, and your mother yells at you to sleep soon because your grandfather may be a jar of ashes stored in vihara but you have school tomorrow. it is time to go to bed.
—when life goes on but a loved one's had come to a standstill