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  • What is it about death that makes us want to see things burn?

    I thought it was just me. After my husband died, I wanted everything to burn and burned everything I could (reasonably) do so. I burned our marriage bed. I burned the couch that was soaked in his blood. I burned the pieces of drywall where the bullet had passed through the wall. I burned the crib that was broken by the bullet. I burned him.

    I had done the same a few years before when my beloved grandfather had passed in much the same fashion. But it still wasn't enough burning, apparently, because every year I come back to burn again, and again, and again.

    Tonight we burn for his brother, who died suddenly a year ago. His widow and I sit quietly wrapped in our own memories watching the flames. We can't talk about it too much; not because it hurts so badly, but because we have such different thoughts and it is too hard to make the pieces fit into one another. We bonded over the flames regardless, both widows of the brothers we loved so well. She doesn't seem to feel the compulsive need to incinerate everything like I do, and I struggle with wondering why but cannot ask. I am afraid she is going to look at me strangely, or worse, try to put on some pseudo-empathic discourse and try to tell me how much worse it is for her.

    I do not ask, because the latter would make me scream. Our resemblances are few, but powerful enough that we will forever be sisters in our fashion.

    Maybe I burn because it is the only way to make things look like I feel, or moreover felt on those days. I can recall it too well, standing there holding our (my) newborn daughter, watching our (my) toddler son playing on the floor and hearing the officer mouth the words, "I'm so sorry." He couldn't take his eyes off her, because was (is) beautiful, and tiny, and oh-so-very new to the world and it was already chaos--he looked utterly horrified. I looked at them, too and realized our family had now become my family and I was burning alone in hell. It had to be hell. It had to be a nightmare. I did not sleep for weeks because I was afraid to wake up and find out it was real.

    But that makes it seem like it was yesterday, and for me it has been over four years. For my fire-sister, it is only a year, and I try to keep that in mind. I try to remember my agony at the one-year fire, because that was the worst pyre, the angry pyre. Now, they are just sadness, pity, and remembering.

    Wisps of smoke and honor.
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