Congregational Mourning Shoes by Susanna Baird

We bring them down from high shelves in guest room closets. We carry them up from basement boxes where they rest next to strings of Christmas lights, enamelware pots, rakes, trunks full of mothballs and wool.

Unbox, unbin pumps in leather if winter, patent if Easter has passed, heels thicker than strumpet but not too thick because we are not dead yet. We will strap one safe hole past comfort. It would not do to trip.

Black Kiwi polish we keep for such occasions. We do not buy the modern bottles with their sponges. We buy the round tins, circles of black wax that remind us of our weekend fathers with chamois cloths on wingtips.

Underneath we wear our stockings nude. Above we are smartly dressed. We look our best for the dead who cannot see us. We look our best for the people who are left who are alive. We are alive and so we have taken care.

Wine-red carpets pocked with thin spots thready from years of salted boots stretch down the aisles we walk. We pass our people. They too have taken care and we do not stop to catch at their hands. 

We sit in pews with backs that keep us wakeful. We sit, we do not kneel. We look our god straight in his eye. Someday we will shake his hand with our firm grip that will tell him exactly who we are.

How Great Thou Art, we sing. Our voices swell, our souls. Again we sit. We hear the gospel John. We hear Corinthians. We hear the beneficent reverend remind us of the good that is within us, of the good that was in our dead.

Tissues balled in fists, we do not wail. We are not hiding sorrow. We are not ashamed of our distress. We are heartache restrained, our loss full and contained, correctly expressed by the straight of our spines and the shine of our shoes.

This is our grieving. This is our grief.