When I was thirteen, I found my dad’s body in the garage. 

His parents were on an Alaskan cruise, his girlfriend was in Hawaii, and his sister was across town. I was the last person who spoke to him. 

Everyone knew this, of course. They walked around me like I was fragile glass — vulnerable to even the weakest blows. In the midst of their own grief, my family’s objective was to keep me distracted. To keep me from breaking into a million shards. As reality shifted around me, they shifted around me too. 

A more accurate assertion, though, was that everyone shifted for me.

A week after his death, Mom, her parents, and I drove down from Tennessee to Atlanta for his funeral. It was more of a memorial than a funeral since he wished to be cremated. I hadn’t known this, but Mom did, and she made sure I told his parents. As his ex-wife, she couldn’t exactly take control of the proceedings. So, I was her liaison. Apparently, my dad had wished to be cremated because he hated the idea of leaving behind remains, especially the artificial remains in his chest cavity — his heart valve. I accepted the idea and passed on the message.

We arrived at the funeral home around noon. Knowing that my grandparents weren’t very religious, I didn’t question the location. We met with my dad’s parents, his girlfriend and her children (who had flown in from Hawaii days prior), my aunt, and my great-aunt. There were eleven of us in total. A man greeted us with a dull smile and led us to a room near the back. He asked if we would like to see my dad’s body before the cremation.

The last time I’d seen his body, it was lukewarm yet lifeless, slicked in blood from his fall to the floor. He’d been facedown, a fact that continually evaded my mind. I didn’t really know if I wanted to see it again, but I knew it couldn’t be worse than that.

Mom and her parents were still. They’d divorced from the family, so they had no place to answer. On the other hand, my dad’s girlfriend couldn’t decide because she wasn’t a part of the family. My great-aunt seemed at a loss for words, and my aunt didn’t seem eager to answer either. When she picked me up from the house, they’d asked her to identify him for the record. I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to see his body again.

That left me and his parents. I think at this point, they’d already seen him when they collected his things from the funeral home. They too were silent.

Everyone’s eyes fell on me. Space moved around me, not because I was fragile, but because I was the only one who had been there. I was his next-of-kin, his daughter. This entire moment was dependent on me. I swallowed a lump in my throat. 

“Yeah, I’d like to see him,” I said, without knowing whether I really wanted to.

Reality snapped back into place and the man led us to a pair of doors. It took me a moment to wrap my mind around what I’d just done and I shoved it down back into place.

His swollen, makeup-caked body didn’t give me any more clarity, but maybe it was enough for someone else.

Alyssa Gregg is a freshman from Kingsport, Tennessee. She is majoring in Broadcast and Digital Journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.