Charlie died when I was about 6 years old. I had never known anyone that died, much less seen a corpse. But for some reason, I wanted to go to the funeral home, and my parents allowed it. Charlie was my grandfather's friend. I don't think I was particularly close to him, but I did know him. He used to go on fishing trips with us, and I think he and his wife came to a few of our family gatherings during the holidays. When I heard that Charlie had died, I knew I should be sad, but I really had no idea what death was. The only experience I had had with death involved family pets that passed away: gerbils, rabbits, goldfish, etc. I had handled these deaths okay, so I figured that Charlie's death would be no different.
I remember walking into Patterson's Funeral Home and seeing Charlie lying in a coffin. I walked up to the coffin and looked inside. Charlie was lying there- he wasn't moving, he wasn't breathing, he wasn't talking. He was just lying there. It was so weird. He was dressed up in a suit like he was ready for church. It was as if he got ready to go, and then decided to lay down for a nap. While everyone else was hugging and chatting, I stood there in amazement. Tears started to flow and I didn't want anyone else to notice that I was crying, so I left the room and headed towards the lobby. I was sitting in a big leather chair, the kind with the fancy brass upholstery nails all along the seams. My head was buried in the arm of the chair as I cried uncontrollably. I felt a presence and looked up. Uncle Hub (pictured left) was standing there and he asked if I was okay. I told him I was fine. He asked what I was doing and I told him that I just wanted to count the brass nails in the chair- just wondering how many there were. Uncle Hub saw through my lie and asked if I wanted to go outside with him and I accepted the invitation. I felt total relief when we got outside. We sat on the steps of the front porch of Patterson's, and he asked if I'd been crying. I told him that I didn't understand how everyone could stand around talking and laughing while Charlie was just lying there dead. Uncle Hub explained to me that everyone handles death differently, and that it is okay to cry. He put his arm around me and we stared at the Biltmore tower across the street. We didn't talk, we just sat there and before I knew it I felt like everything would be alright. I understood that some people cried at funerals and some people laughed. We all felt the same emotions, but we expressed them in different ways. On that day, I realized which group I fell into.