My First Dead Body
I am seven. Momma has taken me out of school to spend the day with her. I’m excited. I like to spend the day with momma. Just me and her. We are going to visit the convent where her friend Sister Ludwina lived but she’s not there anymore. She died last week. Momma is very sad about that. I remember momma crying on the phone a little while back. Then she cried some more when daddy came home and she told him Sister Ludwina was sick. She used to visit our house before she moved. She wore a habit. Me and momma talk in the car about what happens to people when they die. She said they get put in a coffin and buried in the ground but their soul goes to heaven. I tell her I know that. I learned it in school. I ask her why she was friends with a nun. She says nuns are people too. I tell her I know that too.
We are finally here. There is a metal gate that opens by itself and a big lawn and a pretty garden. This convent is a lot bigger than the one where I go to school. We park and walk to the front door. A nun opens it before we knock. She hugs momma then she pats me on the head and touches my cheek. I hold momma’s hand. We go inside and the nun takes us around and shows us the house. It smells funny in here. She takes us upstairs to Sister Ludwina’s room and she gives momma a book. Momma starts to cry a little. I tell her not to cry. We go downstairs to a little room by the kitchen and have tea and sugar cookies.
Momma and the nun are talking about Sister Ludwina’s sickness while we visit with her. Then she asks if we are ready to see her. I’m confused. I look at momma. She says we are going to see Sister Ludwina in the chapel. I tell momma she’s dead. Momma says yes but we are going to see her body and say goodbye. I don’t want to. She tells me it will be okay. She says she will look like she’s asleep. They stand up and momma takes my hand. I start to cry. I’m scared. Momma says there is nothing to be afraid of. The nun takes my other hand. We walk down a hallway to big double doors and the nun pushes one open. This looks like a church. The chapel at the convent at my school is a little room. I see the coffin by the alter. As we walk down the long aisle I close my eyes. Momma and the nun are guiding me. I hear momma say she looks beautiful so I open my eyes. Momma is right. She is just laying there looking asleep. I’m not scared anymore.
Many years later I asked my mother why she took me with her that day. She said she thought it was a good opportunity to teach me about death because it was someone that I wasn’t close to. She asked me with concern if I had been traumatized. I wasn’t traumatized at all, but it was such a monumental life event for a seven-year old girl that I remember almost every detail leading up to seeing the body. My mom and I talked about that day. She asked if I remembered that we went to lunch and shopping afterward, but I have no recollection of the remainder of the day. My last memory is Sister Ludwina lying in the coffin.