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A black casket, shiny and ornate, sat upon the altar, and pallbearers in dark suits quietly led the mourners to their seats as the church continued to fill. The chanter’s hypnotic singing droned on. It was a muggy one hundred and five degrees, but inside the dark sanctuary, cut off and remote from the outside world, it was cool and still. The air in the Annunciation Cathedral was heavily mingled with the sweet scent of carnations and the burning sting of incense. Rays of sunlight, muted by tall stained glass windows, cast uneven shadows on the walls of the church. From the huge pipe organ flowed the somber strains of a Byzantine lament.
"Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.” In automatic response, Sophia Zaharis, seated in the front pew, crossed herself. He was too young, she thought sadly, her eyes never leaving the coffin. An accident, they said—unexpected, tragic. She reflected on another funeral, which had taken place more than sixty years ago on the small island of Ikaria in Greece where she grew up. She could still see the smiling face of her father as he held her little brother’s hand and waved to them from the fishing boat. She unconsciously reached into the small pocket on the inside of her purse and fingered the frayed and worn photograph. Her father had been just thirty-six years old; her brother, with dark curls spilling over his collar and smiling eyes, a mere seven. And then the accident. She shuddered, flooded with feelings of grief and pain that were undiminished with time. It was a blow from which her mother never recovered and Sophia understood that she, too, was affected by the double loss in ways more profound than she knew. She had married Andreas and left Greece a few short years later to come to America. Perhaps that was the hardest thing of all—to leave her mother an ocean away, alone and mourning. There is something wrong in the order of nature when a parent buries a child, even if that child is an adult, she thought, lifting her eyes to the casket once again.
The Greek Orthodox priest appeared from behind the lattice-carved wooden screen dressed in his vestments, and, carrying a large gold-encrusted Bible, turned to face the congregation. She still couldn't believe he was dead. So much had happened in one short year. She closed her eyes and thought back to that perfect last summer in Ikaria.