From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

Melts in Your Heart, Not in Your Hand

Though she had been in a coma for nearly six months, it was still a shock when my grandmother passed away. She’d had her third stroke the year before and had lapsed into the silent sleep afterwards, leaving her family to sit by her bedside at the hospital, to ache, to cry and to pray. I was not yet thirteen when she died, and the first thing I clearly remember was the shock that she was gone forever. I’d understood that death awaited her, but in those first moments of knowing, I could not believe that “eventually” had finally come to pass.

What was to follow was the pomp and circumstance of a typical Catholic send-off. First, there would be wakes. Four of them. Two on the first day, one from 2:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M., and one from 7:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. The same schedule would be repeated the following day. The third day would be the funeral itself, the church funeral, then the final burial at the graveyard. It seemed like too much to take. For the next few days, my whole life would become death: staring at the body of my grandmother amidst the overwhelming scent of too many fresh flowers, feeling the eeriness of the funeral home and dreaming of her at night, her ghost hovering over me while I tried desperately to fall asleep. My real life, the life of an eighth-grader who was almost done with grammar school and off to high school, had never seemed farther away.

At the funeral home, friends and neighbors poured in to pay their last respects to my grandmother and to show support for my mother. Not knowing where to be or what to do, I stayed off to the side, not wanting to upset my mother. The awkwardness finally came to an end, with the arrival of my friend Kelly.

She lived down the street; we’d been friends ever since she was three and I four. My mother had been so pleased when she discovered that a family with a little girl had moved in down the street—finally, a playmate for me! She and Kelly’s mother, Patti, became fast friends, as did Kelly and I. Though I was a year older than her and we were in different grades in school, it didn’t matter much. We were “home” friends, the kind that rode bikes together after school and made up plays for our Cabbage Patch kids to act out. When we got older, we grew more mischievous and began sneaking to a diner a few blocks away for ice-cream sundaes, even though we weren’t allowed to leave the block. When finally we were allowed to leave the block, we’d go around the corner for pizza, but stopped first in the alleyway to put on pink lipstick and eye shadow.

At the funeral home, Kelly’s parents went to the coffin and knelt to pray. Kelly came right to me. In her hands were two packages of M&M’s, original and peanut. Kelly knew that candy was one of my favorite things; we had often taken long trips to the local store for chocolate bars and lollipops. “I thought this would make you feel better,” she said. For the rest of that wake and the others that Kelly attended, we sat in the back of the viewing room, eating M&M’s and talking quietly. A devastating and unfamiliar experience had suddenly become easier to bear, with a childhood offering of chocolate candies and the company of a devoted friend.

When my other grandmother passed away two years later, Kelly was there once again for all of the wakes and the funeral, and came bearing M&M’s for each one. It’s a difficult thing, trying to come up with something to offer a grieving person . . . what do you do for a person who has just lost one of the most important people in their lives? Kelly had understood, even at twelve, that there wasn’t much she could do to ease my pain but be there with me and bring something that just might make me smile. When Kelly’s grandmother died a year after that, I arrived at her wake with a one-pound bag of M&M’s.

Now, whenever Kelly and I find ourselves at a funeral home for a family member of ours, the other has always shown up bearing M&M’s, a small offering of cheer to take the edge off the hovering sorrow. We’ve joked that when we’re old, whichever one of us dies first will have a crazy old lady throwing M&M’s into her grave, while the other mourners will look on in confusion. It’s a silly thought, but M&M’s will always be significant to me now. They will remind me that even when something as painful and as powerful as death comes to claim what’s most important to me, there will always be chocolate . . . and Kelly.

Jennifer Stevens

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