Up here in the frozen north, spring committals are an unpleasant ritual. Anyone who dies when the ground is frozen has to wait for burial till after thaw, and this is what happened to the family of our 13-year-old friend who died of brain cancer in January.
So yesterday morning, we all gathered round the gravesite for the committal ceremony. It was a beautiful morning: birches glowing on the stony hillside, a woodpecker rapping. I was there with my son, who was weeping, of course. "It is so terrible for her friends," said the dead girl's father to me later. "They don't have much experience with losing things yet."
Suddenly, just before the end of the ceremony, there was a scuffle in the front row, then a scream of "Call 9-1-1! She's having a heart attack!" The girl's grandmother was on the ground, the local EMT was flying down the hill in his winged work boots to fetch the ambulance, the school nurse was on the grass beside the grandmother, the crowd was shocked and scared. I looked over at my son, and he had turned a dreadful shade of green. He, too, dropped to the ground, though still under his own volition, and put his head between his knees. He did not quite pass out, but he was close.
The incident had as happy an ending as one could hope for: the grandmother had simply fainted from exhaustion and stress. However, the scene was difficult to erase from our minds, and my son was in a state of intense grief for a long time afterward.