As the Casket Closes: A Narrative Essay | Teen Ink

As the Casket Closes: A Narrative Essay

September 15, 2023
By brennacooper BRONZE, North Augusta, South Carolina
brennacooper BRONZE, North Augusta, South Carolina
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

On August 12, 2022, a day etched into my memory, I braced myself for an experience that would forever alter my life. As I got ready for that evening, as I put on my silky, black dress, I prepared to see my father for the last time. I prepared to give him one last hug, one last kiss on the cheek, one last goodbye, and one last time being by his side. As I walked into my cold, somber living room, flooded with people, I put on my brave face. People all over my house prepared for the viewing, but most of these people were not as close to him as I was. These people didn’t play different scenarios over and over in their heads, worrying about how their daily lives would change without him. They didn’t watch him struggle to eat, walk, talk, or see; they didn’t watch their father slowly fade away and leave this earth. 

As my family and I made our way to the funeral home, we braced ourselves. All of the family we had to talk to, all of the people we had to see, and all of the emotions we had were overstimulating. Walking inside the dim, frigid viewing room, I noticed the quiet conversations. I focused on the people, until my focus turned to the open casket. I had seen my father lifeless the night that he died and I didn’t want to see him like that for a second time. As I held his hand, I grasped his cold, pruney fingers and I combed his few, thin strands of hair. There was no movement, no circulation, and simply no living. There was nothing but my cold, dead father. I was overcome with sadness, yet still had to keep it all together. Hundreds of people showed up to see my dad one last time and I had to talk with them and act like everything was okay, like my whole heart wasn’t being ripped out. Yet there was nothing worse than being told by the funeral home workers that I had ten more minutes left with my dad, forever. However, the most challenging part was that, even though I would see him the next day at the funeral, the casket would not be opened ever again.

Amidst the emotional turbulence, I found myself shouldering the responsibility of not only my own emotions but also everyone’s emotions around me. Even though I was struggling as well, I had to be the mature one. When my dad went to Houston, Texas for cancer treatment, my brother, the oldest of three siblings, came into town to watch me and my older brother. As a twenty-one year old, I thought he would take responsibility and do the chores my mom had asked him to do, like going grocery shopping and cleaning the bathrooms. When I noticed that he had not completed the tasks my mother had asked, I did all of them. My mom had so much on her mind and I knew she deserved to come home to all of the tasks being completed. While my brother just sat on the couch, I cooked the meals, I took care of the dogs, I did all of the extra chores he was supposed to do, and I did so much more while being fifteen years old, still going to school and getting good grades. I learned throughout my father’s cancer situation that it was best to just keep busy and take care of everyone else because it helped me put my emotions aside. Therefore, I took the role of mother and did what I had to do to make sure everyone else was okay, even if it meant that I wasn’t. I became the anchor that steadied the household ship in the storm.

When my dad returned home after treatment, we knew that things were not going to end well. During the last week of July, roughly two months after he had returned, I was sent off to band camp, and nothing could have prepared me for coming home and seeing my mom and oldest brother crying outside the house. Nothing could have prepared me for being ten minutes too late. Nothing could have prepared me to see my father in that condition, to see him gone. I never got to say ‘goodbye’ to him while he was living, but I did get a sense of closure knowing that he spoke his last words to me. A few nights before he passed, I slept in the same room as him because I was terrified that he would die and I wouldn’t be there with him. That night, he told me slowly “I love you,” at least fifty times. Little did I know that those were the last words he would ever say, and he said them to me. It’s almost as if he knew that I had been through so much trying to be there for others and trying to stay strong. He used his last bit of energy to make sure that I knew he loved me and would always love me. When I reflect on that moment, I realize that it truly didn’t matter that I wasn’t there when he died because he had already said goodbye to me. And, even though I wished that I could have been there during his last breath, I knew he didn’t want me there. I was his little girl, and he did everything he could to protect me, even in his last few days of life. 

Everything about my father’s cancer journey was incredibly tough, but I had to deal with the pain and emotions, sometimes alone. Though it was one of the hardest experiences I think I will ever go through, it helped me grow. I matured much quicker and realized that I was capable of handling much more than the average teenager can at that age. I gained coping skills that I will be able to use the rest of my life. I learned to use my five senses when I feel like I am about to break down or have an anxiety attack. I identify what I smell, hear, taste, feel, and see and to help me shift my focus. Now, a year after my father’s death, I go to therapy, which has benefited me tremendously, giving me coping mechanisms for when I think about my father’s death, allowing me to understand that I should be proud of myself and where I am today. My therapist helped me realize that I needed to talk to family about the situation because they would never know if I was hurting or needed help. I was bottling up my emotions because I figured that if I talked to family members about it, I would only be a bother. The cancer journey has molded me into a stronger and more independent person. I am no longer scared of the future and what will happen because I know I am prepared for whatever comes my way. My dad always told me that I was strong and capable of so much more than I knew, and now I fully believe it. I believe that I am the person I am today, a strong, independent, brave girl, because of him and I will forever be grateful.

The author's comments:

This piece deals with the loss of my father due to cancer. 

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