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Grief Lessons

By Barbara Ivusic All Rights Reserved ©


Chapter 1


The morning sun was vibrant as it made its way across the sky, energising the birds which swerved and dodged over the high pine trees above the procession, making brown needles fall onto the varnished timber coffin. The graveyard was situated on a magnificent cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea on the Dalmatian Coast. People gathered and offered their condolences to the family of the deceased man. Tomislav lay beneath the ground, still and mute. His navy colleagues knew him nine months in a year and in those months he was accustomed to being admired and respected. Those closest to him knew that Tomislav’s character oscillated between extreme confidence and extreme vulnerability, like Achilles whose weakness is the knowledge that there is such a thing as weakness, that there is such a thing as human limitation, and a fate that could not be changed.

“We will remember him for his love of life, his energy and his strength. We will remember him in our hearts.” An officer in uniform voiced to the crowd that stood around the flower-covered coffin and the Yugoslavian flag which drooped in the easing wind.  

His wife Magda starred through the black lace veil which fell over her eyes, her glare unfaltering and still. She looked down at her shoes, and upon noticing that they were dirty she developed an urge to make them even dirtier, to allow herself that one freedom and be exempted from judgment, because after all, it was her husband’s funeral and she was the widow for whom everyone was supposed to feel pity. She suddenly felt self-conscious, realising that all eyes were on her, anxiously awaiting her reaction, as if it was her show; her performance. Magda listened to her own thoughts and allowed them to soothe her. This was the way in which Magda had learnt to cope over the years, a way in which she withdrew from the scene and into her own mind, gradually becoming skillful at doing so.

The priest started to talk in religious jargon, occasionally raising his voice and lifting his arms into the air, but Magda did not hear him. She looked at her two sons, Niko and Baldo, their faces pallid and somehow worn. It had been a few days since they had rested, for the ordeal of organising the funeral and driving backwards and forwards from their house in the countryside and into Dubrovnik had taken its toll. She stretched her hand out to Baldo; his little palm felt sweaty in her own hand as she squeezed it. She pulled him to her, his little body swaying tiredly as he leaned closer to his mother. He watched the coffin being layered into the ground, half comprehending what it meant to be buried, half dismayed by the ritual. Baldo turned to his brother Niko, who was much older than himself, and whom he considered to be full of knowledge and wisdom, someone to run to when things got difficult in life. Baldo looked at his brother with fear written all over his little face and whispered softly but just loud enough for Niko to hear:

“What’s gonna happen, what’s gonna happen, what’s gonna happen?” He chanted this so often, that Niko couldn’t help but smile at his brother when he saw the fear on his face, for he had seen it very often when the little boy felt confused or anxious.

“Nothing’s gonna happen. It’s alright, turn your eyes away.” Niko said this line as if saying it for the hundredth time, a little too accustomed to the nature of reassurance.

When the coffin was fully lowered into the ground and the heavy piece of marble positioned over it, Baldo began to understand that the open hole in the ground and the tall pine trees above them were now the roof of his father’s new house; the large piece of marble, his permanent ceiling.

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