I am eight years old sitting on the floor as my mom attempts to brush tangles out of my thick, brown hair late one summer evening. Chlorine from the pool and rays from the blazing sun have bleached it lighter over these few months, but the auburn tint still rings true. There is a magic detangling potion in the spray bottle my mom is using and it fills the room with a sweet, flowery mist. The white towel in my lap is still warm from hanging on the clothesline. I hear rain from tonight’s thunderstorm tip-tapping on the roof, but instead of seeing rivers of raindrops slide down the glass doors of my childhood home, I am jolted back to reality under fluorescent lights in a windowless room.
Standing in the preparation room of our funeral home, I hear rain and the faint noise of a radio playing music in the corner, but all I really notice is the weight of silence in the room. She is too young to be here; her body is lifeless on the porcelain table and the comb in my hand keeps catching on knots in her long, dark hair. I am wondering if the magic detangling potion my mom used would work for her hair, and all my mind can imagine is the scent of the mist that came from the bottle with sunflowers painted on its front. The white towels spread over her body are stained with red blood and her eyes are closed for forever tonight. She woke up yesterday morning for the last time and found her way into the wrong end of an argument with her boyfriend sometime between then and now.
It is not my place to know any more, really. Suspicions of drugs and violence dance around, but what we are here to do is prepare her body for her family to see. I cannot fathom the grief and anger swirling around in her parents’ minds. When they enter the visitation room and see the outline of her casket, the phrase “grief stricken” does not even begin to capture their faces. I step inside and close the door as her mother’s knees hit the floor and her screams fill the halls. The hum of a hair dryer is still ringing in my ears from when the last of the stubborn knots I was combing came loose in my hands just hours before.
There are sunflowers in the arrangement we place on top of her casket. I am very careful to mind their thick stalks when I move it to the side in order to open the lid. Tears slip down her father’s cheeks as he gently reaches for her. His hand brushes a lock of smooth hair on her shoulder, and the fragrance of summer flowers hangs in the air.
They lay her to rest early the next morning in the cool of the day. I drive by the cemetery on my way out that night and notice the blooms of the sunflowers wilting on the freshly covered grave. The bright flowers which seemed to be larger than life just yesterday have already faded in the heat. It crosses my mind that even an unsuspecting passerby would view their lowered heads as taking on a state of mourning, and would perhaps even pause to consider the deep ache of life cut short far too soon.