I’m At A Funeral

US National Archives
US National Archives

I’m at a funeral.

It’s not for anyone that I actually know. It’s for my friend’s grandpa, on his mom’s side. I never met the guy. I’ve never even met my friend’s mom. But he asked me to go. So I went.

An Irish priest begins the eulogy. He discusses life and death in a poetic form. Tears begin to flood within my eye sockets. Never was there even an opportunity to see a photo of my friend’s grandpa, but sympathy for his family’s loss causes me to softly cry.

Wakes and funerals make me very uncomfortable. I don’t know how to dress. I don’t know the right things to say. I don’t know what to bring (Cards? Food? Flowers? Tissues?). I don’t know the correct way to stand without looking awkward or bored. I don’t know the right place to sit in accordance to those closest to the dead, or how long I should stick around grieving for someone I’ve never even met.

I don’t do this stuff a lot — go to funerals. People in my family don’t really die. Lucky, I know, but part of me feels like I am lacking some very important life skills:  How to steel yourself when confronted by strangers. How to graciously reply to someone who says, “I’m sorry for your loss.” How to not break down into an emotional mess when a relative or close friend involuntarily starts relaying some long-ago anecdote which is meaningless to you, but was so meaningful to the recently deceased.

My friend’s grandpa is surrounded by loved ones and decadent floral displays. Strangely, the arrangements of flowers remind me of fruit baskets — deep reds like berries and bright oranges, apple greens and banana yellows. Posters taped with old photos sit on easels for visitors to admire and reflect upon. All of these adornments make the funeral parlour look somewhat appealing, a distraction from what I consider to be a dismal scene of death.

My own grandmother passed away in May. She was 89. She was the first real funeral I’d ever been to. She was the last member of her immediate family to die. It didn’t surprise me that no one came to her wake — she didn’t have a gaggle of friends or relatives to pay their last respects. There were no colourful baskets of flowers to soften the freezing cold room where the funeral home placed her coffin. Only five of us — her son, his wife, and her grandchildren — sit staring at her lifeless, embalmed body resting peacefully amongst satin pillows.

No, that’s not true. My sister is preoccupied. Her fingers rapidly press the keys on her Blackberry. She is in a text fight with her boyfriend, at the funeral home, in front of my grandmother’s dead body. “She wanted to die,” she hisses at me, watching tears stream down my face. “She practically begged to go. I’m not sorry she’s gone. She was so sick and just wanted to go.”

Everyone else in my family feels the same way. They lounge-about in the row of chairs in front of the coffin, relaxed and somewhat impatient. I am the only one sitting rigidly on-edge, uncomfortable, unsure of what happens next. “She was so old.” “She was so sick.”  “She didn’t even know we were here.” So what?  She was still a person, with a life, a long life, culminating now in the stagnant room of an inexpensive funeral home where five people she knew and loved are waiting for the coroner to say a prayer.

My grandmother died in a hospice on a Tuesday afternoon. I’d planned to visit her and say goodbye after work that day. But around 2:00 p.m., my mom called to say that she passed. It kills me inside, knowing that I didn’t go see her sooner. What does she think of me, the granddaughter that didn’t visit her one last time before she moved on to her chosen afterlife?  My family’s comments cause me to stifle my emotions. I can hear my mother now:

“You’re overreacting,” she rolls her eyes and says. “She’s gone. Get over it.”

In a way, I’m glad I didn’t ask anyone to come to my grandmother’s funeral. I don’t know how other people with recently deceased family members can do it — be surrounded by so many visitors, each one repeating the same sentiment, each one doing their best to be comforting and supportive. When someone close to me dies, I want to be alone. I want to be by myself in a room, curled up in a ball, able to cry and cry and not show anyone that I am weak. Or erratic. I don’t want others to think I’m unstable and unfit, that I can’t take care of myself and that I need to be coddled and pitied.

I don’t need your pity. I just want to cry. I just want to feel sad that someone I love is no longer with me. I don’t want you to watch me do or feel anything. I don’t want you to say anything you think I want to hear. Nothing, absolutely nothing you tell me will make me feel any different from the emotional torment building up inside of my body that is spilling out through my eyes and mouth.

This is why I wish I’d been to more funerals in my life — if only to know how I’m supposed to behave. I feel ill-prepared for the days ahead that will involve the inevitable loss of more people I know and care for. I feel overwhelmed at the prospect that I will have to make serious decisions within the bounds of intense emotion for the passing of my parents, my husband, my siblings. That is, if I ironically manage to outlive them all.

I know that life never really prepares you for things like this until they happen, but maybe if I had a little more practice, a little more exposure to it, death and dying and wakes and funerals would not feel as overwhelming to me as they do right now. TC Mark

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