17. Seeing Red

Today is cold and grey and I am wearing a black dress. Our daughter will be digging in the dirt and planting spring bulbs in blue at school. We will be going to a friend’s funeral. Part of me wants to stay and dig in the dirt in blue. I feel nervous at the thought of sitting in the chapel with lots of other people. We walk with Pru and our daughter to the school. Pru is a black and tan coloured pint size dachshund. Today Pru wears black too. She barks and looks for potential scratches and kind words from the parents and children passing by. Earlier that morning I practice the breathing exercises that I learned in the school hall the day before. I’m nervous but my stomach doesn’t react. The silence and stillness in my body doesn’t match the nervousness in my brain. It feels eerie and new and oddly comforting. My mind whirls but my body stays still. We kiss our daughter’s sweet head and say goodbye. She is happy to go to school today because today she will be outside digging in the muddy, rich dark earth. Earth as dark as my dress.

We take Pru home and attempt bribing her with a treat to lure her into the laundry room, where she stays when we are away. Pru knows we aren’t doing our usual morning of writing in the office. She hides under the sofa. My husband and I get down on the chewed up rug, that is clinging to life by a thread, and pull her out from under the sofa. Pru hides under the sofa when she is scared or not wanting to do something she should. We tuck her into her dog bed in the laundry room. She curls up, resigned to an imposed morning nap.

On our way to the funeral we pick up two friends from the coffee shop. One friend decided to go at the last minute, we swing by her house as she’s scraping ice off of her car. I hop out and tell her to jump in with us. She does. We carry on to pick up our other friend. My husband, who wasn’t planning on it, has become a chauffeur to three grieving friends. I’m glad he’s driving because today I feel nervous in my mind but not my body. But the thought of being crammed into the chapel with lots of people makes me feel nervous. Earlier in the morning I toy with the idea of staying home. I could honour my friend in my own way at home. But I look through my fear and know I shouldn’t sit this one out. I know that wouldn’t be the prudent thing to do.

We arrive at the funeral home and find ourselves at the front of the line to enter the chapel. I tell my husband I want to sit in the back, as though he doesn’t know this already. I head to the back row the same way Pru likes to dive under the sofa. The back row feels a little safer. The friends from the coffee shop follow and sit next to me. I am aware of my breath and that my breath can travel deeper into my body than I thought possible and I am grateful for this new feeling in this moment. More of our girlfriends spot us on the back row and sit down next to us. I look down the row and see a line of familiar faces. Women who have weaved themselves into each other’s lives over time without really noticing it. I am afraid of crying. What if I’m the only one who cries? When is it okay to cry? I hope I don’t cry so hard I make a noise. The funeral begins with the hymn Amazing Grace. I cry. Our friend’s coffin is covered in the British flag, RAF medals and brightly coloured flowers. In the centre of the flower arrangement is a red poppy. I think of Yves Saint Laurent’s words, ‘red is the battle between death and life.’ I think of walking in a field of poppies last summer and of how lonely and uncomfortable it felt in that sea of red.

We say goodbye to a friend that was as brave in her life as she was on the battle field. I’m glad that I didn’t stay at home today. With my friends, a band of petite women crammed together on the back row, I say goodbye to our brave beautiful friend. A beautiful woman who brought us together because she was brave enough to always be seen and we are better for having known her. In order to see we must be brave enough to be seen, like those poppies in the field and my beautiful friend.

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