A Short Story from A Short Time Ago: The Story of My Great Aunt Shirley Passing Away

Emotions are everywhere; you cannot go a single place without seeing them. In a living room, there are pictures of families and children smiling. At school, there are the laughs of giggling girls. In my home, I hear my parents worrying about money. However, there are feelings far worse that you can’t control.

I am on my way back from an appointment with my therapist. I have to go back to school to take a test, and then I can go home. My mom’s phone starts ringing. She answers the phone but can’t talk because she is driving.

 “Cheyenne. Hey, Cheyenne.” My attention is pulled away from the trees zipping by.

“Yeah?”

“Your grandma is on the phone.”

“Oh.” I pick up the phone and press it against my ear. “Hello?”

Her voice cracks. “Hello.” I can hear the strain in her voice. Her emotions are rising, and my eyebrows furrow as my mind drifts to the worst possible situation: death.

“Grandma?” I ask. “What’s wrong?”

“Where is your mom?” I can barely understand her through her pained voice.

“First, tell me what is wrong.”

She sniffles. “Is your dad at work?”

“Grandma!” I say, raising my voice. “What is wrong?”

My grandma takes a deep breath in, “Your Aunt Shirley died. She was found in her trailer this morning all alone.”

All of a sudden, my emotions come flooding in. 

The worst thing about emotions is that you can’t control them. You can’t make yourself feel happy when you are feeling sad. You can’t make yourself feel comforted when you are feeling hopeless. It is an impossible task. But, in this moment, I had to collect myself and control my emotions for the news I have to break to my parents—I have to do the impossible. I feel a tear slip down my cheek. “Oh.” One word. One syllable. That is all I can allow myself to speak before I feel more tears flood down my cheeks. My body is wracked with sobs, and my tears keep flowing out. I pull the phone away from my ear and look at my mom. I know it will be worse for her and catastrophic for my dad.

“I love you, Cheyenne. We will keep you updated on her funeral arrangements.” My grandma hangs up.

I set the phone down, and my mom looks me in the eyes. She can see the emotions I am feeling before I even tell her what is wrong. That is the other bad thing about emotions; they break the news before your voice has a chance to. “What’s wrong, Cheyenne?”

I wipe the tears from my cheeks. “Aunt Shirley-” I begin. I take a deep breath and my voice cracks.

“Oh my God.” My mom shakes her head and pulls the car over to the side of the road.

“Your Aunt Shirley what?”

My emotions are restricting my air flow, and it hurts to breathe. I look out the window at the trees that are now completely still. It is almost as if they can feel the sadness too. I take a deep, collective breath and turn towards my mom, but I can’t look at her. C’mon, Cheyenne. You can’t tell her without being able to look her in the eyes. I tell myself. After a few seconds—which feel like an eternity—I look into my mother’s deep blue eyes. “Aunt Shirley passed away.”

My mom’s face falls. Her face contorts into something so riddled with pain that it is almost unbearable to watch. She looks out her window at the passing cars. When she looks back at me, a single tear streak has been left on her face. I reach over and grab her hand. She squeezes my hand and looks away again.

“Are you okay?” I ask my mom after a few minutes.

“Yeah.” She sniffles. “Yes.” She thinks she is trying to convince me she is strong, but I think she is trying to convince herself. “We need to call your dad.” She is trying to do the impossible, just like me. She puts the truck in drive and gets back on the road. When she drops me off at the high school, she looks at me. “Will you be able to take the test?”

I nod my head but don’t say anything. If I tell her how hard the test will be, then she will feel bad. I collect a breath and shut the truck door. When I get inside the classroom, I sit down, place my pencil on the desk, and my teacher hands me the test.

By the time I am done, I have managed to do the impossible. I focused so hard on the test before me that I started to forget my sadness, my hopelessness. It was the hardest test I had ever taken. It wasn’t because of the questions on the test, but rather the amount of pressure I was putting on myself to hold back tears and change my emotions.

A few days go by, and I am in a hotel bathroom. I look at myself in the mirror. I am wearing the typical outfit expected for this type of situation: black dress, black tights, grey shoes and hair pulled back—like I said, the typical outfit. 

I pick up the necklace off the counter and turn it over in my hand; it was Aunt Shirley’s necklace. Once I put it on, I look in the mirror, and I know she is here with me. My emotions are all over place. Almost as if they are zooming through every part of my body, and I feel weak. 

When I exit the bathroom, my parents are silent. My older sister looks at the necklace fastened around my neck.

“I’m assuming Grandma gave that to you?” She snaps at me.

“Grandma said that Shirley would have wanted me to have it.” I look at my mom, and she looks down at the jeweled necklace.

Britney storms out of the room. “It’s okay. We all deal with our emotions differently.”

My mom was right because when we arrived at the funeral home, everybody was acting different. Some people were looking at my aunt’s picture and crying while others were looking and laughing as they reminisce on the old memories. There are so many odd faces here that I have never seen before. Then a face appears from around the corner—my grandma. I quickly walk towards her as my heels quietly make contact on the carpet. I wrap my arms around her, and I can feel the tears building in my eyes.

When I back out of the embrace, she looks at me and then down at the necklace. Except instead of looking sad, her face brightens. “What is it?”

“You look so beautiful. I am glad you could come.” My grandma touches the necklace, smiles once more, and walks away.

At the end of the funeral, I look at the pictures on my way out. One picture catches my eye. It is my Aunt Shirley smiling while she is holding her coffee cup. “She loves her coffee.” I say to myself quietly. Then I correct myself in my head. She loved her coffee. In that moment, I knew that she wouldn’t want me to be sad. She would want me to continue enjoying life and loving God because, one day, we will see each other again.