The next two days were a flurry of family meetings, phone calls, and general busy-work. Lots of people were in and out of the house, so when Collins wasn’t busy making arrangements for the funeral proceedings, he was entertaining well-meaning guests. What people don’t realize when they visit the grieving is most of the time, they just want you to shut up. Those who hurt don’t want to hear your condolences; they really just want you to be there. There is nothing anyone can say to a grieving person that will make them feel better, but when someone simply sits with them a while, it tends to be quite helpful.
Collins wished people would just leave him alone. There were a few select family and friends he wanted to be around while he made the preparations for the funeral with his mother and sisters, but the constant stream of guests made it difficult to get anything done. Here they were, getting ready for a funeral, and they were expected to entertain people all day long. They didn’t mean to make things worse, but it seemed like everyone had something to say to him, and they believed that their “words of encouragement” were going to make everything alright.
Truthfully, it was the ones who had gone through the death of a parent who were the most helpful. They were the ones who came over to the house and cleaned the kitchen, prepared meals, and ushered others out of the house when they started driving the family up the wall. Although Schmidty had not lost a parent, he was one of those who was able to be present and make things better.
Collins and Schmidty often found themselves sitting in the backyard on the deck, hiding from the crowds that flowed through the house. Most of the time they just sat there, smoking in silence, having the occasional conversation about hockey or the weather, or some other frivolous topic. It seemed that Schmidt knew that Collins really just needed a friend through the process and someone to help him escape for a while when things got to be too much for him. It was the most helpful anyone had been since the moment Collins had gotten home.
Despite the best efforts of all those guests to keep the family from planning and preparing, eventually it was all taken care of. The casket had been chosen, the mortuary had been booked, and everyone they could think of had been notified. The funeral had been set for the early afternoon, so Collins and his family spent the day together, just the four of them. They decided to get lunch at Mr. Collins’ favorite burger joint before the funeral, taking what little time they could away from the crowds.
They ate in silence, until Collins spoke up.
“Welcome to the suck.”
“What was that, sweetie?” Collins’ mother asked.
“Welcome to the suck. Dad said while he was in the Marines that whenever they had a difficult assignment ahead of them, they would say that to each other. It was their way of saying ‘this is going to suck, but we’re in this together.’”
Collins’ mom sighed and said, “That’s true. Things are going to be very different without your dad, but we still have each other.”
His sisters nodded somberly, and continued to eat quietly, with short small talk sprinkled throughout the meal. This was a heavy moment for all of them, and the silence was somehow comforting. Just quietly being together away from everyone was peaceful and helped to calm their aching hearts.
After the meal, they made their way over to the funeral home. The day went by quickly, and yet seemed to drag on forever. The family greeted people as they came in, and eventually, it was time for the service to start. Reed was leading the funeral service, and while in later years none of them could remember what he said exactly, the family remembered that it was heartfelt and comforting.
After giving the initial speech, Reed called up several family friends to say a few words to the crowd. The final speaker was Collins himself. Before going up to the podium, Collins closed his eyes a second and prepared himself. His mother reached over and squeezed his hand, while his sister Kelsey hugged him from the other side.
Upon reaching the front of the room, Collins looked out over the room for a moment before he stepped up to the microphone. He saw his family and friends, and he couldn’t help but smile. They had all come to support him, his sisters, and his mother on this difficult day.
“Good afternoon, everyone; I want to thank you all for coming. It means a lot to us that each of you took the time to be here today. I spent the last couple of days thinking about what I wanted to say up here today, and last night it finally came to me: I want you all to know that Daniel Collins is not dead. Yes, we are going to bury his body today, but he lives on.
“My father was an incredible man, and he touched a lot of lives in a lot of ways. Every person in this room was affected by him in some way or another. Even if you never met the man, you knew one of us, and through us, you saw him. He was the one who taught me what it means and what it takes to be a man. He shaped me, often not by what he said, but by what he did. I watched him my whole life; I watched how he talked to people and how he treated people. He taught me to be kind and strong, he taught me to stand up for people and to watch out for others.
“On top of what I saw him do, my dad and I had a lot of good talks while he was with us. We talked about life, work, and faith. We talked about family, and what it means to truly live. I would call him in the years after I moved out of his house when I had a problem and when I had an epiphany, and no matter what time of day or night, I knew he would pick up the phone and talk with me.
“It is those things he taught me that will live on within us all. His legacy of grace and strength will influence how I raise my own children one day. It is the memory of him that will continue to influence how we live our lives. Personally, those who meet me and never met my father will still know him through me. They will see what kind of man he raised me to be. His memory will always be alive in my heart, every day for as long as I live. Thank you all again for being here with us today.”
Collins stepped back to his seat, where his mother and his sisters stood and embraced him. They all sat as Reed closed out the service, and everyone began to file through to pay their last respects. After the crowd had made their way through, Collins asked the pallbearers to step outside for a moment while the family paid their last respects. First his mom made her way to the casket while he and his sisters sat in the aisle together. Kelsey walked up to the casket and said goodbye, while Collins sat with Laura as she cried.
“Chris…” she said after a moment, “would you go see Daddy with me? I don’t want to go up there alone, but I don’t want anyone else with me either.”
“Of course, Laurie; we’ll go up there together.”
Collins waited for the other two to step away for a minute, and then stood, taking his sister’s hand in both of his, they slowly walked up to the casket. Laura burst into another round of tears at the sight of her father (she had avoided seeing him until this point), and Chris stood there, holding her. He whispered a few comforting words to her, and after a few minutes, she was ready. She stepped to the side, and Collins called his mother over to close the casket with him.
The casket was closed, and the pallbearers did their duty. Everyone made their way over to the gravesite, where The Marine Corps performed a flag-folding ceremony, and Daniel’s best friend gave a small eulogy. He was then lowered into the ground and it was all over. Just like that, everything was done. For as light-hearted as Chris Collins was, even he couldn’t take this lightly.
There were a few days where people still came to the house fairly frequently, but within a week, everything was quiet, and the new normal set in. Collins began looking for work again, and life resumed. Collins spent a couple weeks with his family, and then moved back in with Schmidty and Jeremy. It seemed Collins would get through this mourning period with minimal damage, when three weeks after the funeral, The Troll lifted her evil head and contacted Collins. What happened next may have been the worst mistake of his entire life.