Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I should probably elaborate on my funeral musings, lest people think I was singularly insensitive and unmoved by the occasion. Let me first say, that I am really profoundly bothered by open casket funerals. Death, I think, is private.

We get to the chapel, and there is my grandpa, lying there for all the world to see. It took me a full 10 minutes to work up the courage to walk IN to the room. I could not look, it was hard and emotionally scary to see MY grandpa like that. So I sat and tried to act like it was ok and not look. Meanwhile, everyone else was walking up, kissing him goodbye, tucking stuff in his pockets and talking about how "wonderful" he looked. And folks, he looked NOT like my grandpa. He looked dead. And that was not wonderful to me. He was wearing too much makeup. He looked like a wax doll. I did not like it. I did not want to be there, in that room with a dead grandpa. I felt about six. I felt a pout coming on.

Everyone kept offering to hold my hand and walk up with me, so I could pay my respects. But I had paid my respects by buying a plane ticket, renting a car, writing a eulogy and showing up. I paid my respects by speaking.

I did not want to be there in that room, with a dead grandpa in it. I did not want to tuck candy in his pocket or kiss his cold cheek. I respected him enough to not want to see him like that. That is not how I want to remember him and now my last vision of him is cold, dead, in a box, in a suit I never saw before, wearing too much makeup.

MY grandpa did not wear makeup, he wore cardigan sweaters and he was not cold.

My elderly auntie and other relatives kept saying, "he is only sleeping. He's just sleeping peacefully."

And THAT is when I lost my shit a little bit and said that NO, he is dead. And that it was ok, because at 92 you can be dead and it is sad, but not something to gloss over with platitudes. It just is.

Part of life.

Not sleeping.

Cue insensitive (but funny in my brain) comment about how if he wakes up I am aiming for the head. And yes, listening to Lime & Violet's "Jesus is coming" bit on the plane at 6am that morning DID plant that one in my subconscious, I am sure.

Auntie looked upset. I apologized and said yes, he looks peaceful. Auntie pretended she had not heard zombie humor. I pretended he looked wonderful. Family harmony prevailed.

At 92, I feel like, he's doing what is natural. His knees don't hurt now. He never has to be sad again, or worry or be lonely. And that is okay, at 92. I don't mind that he passed on. We all do. May we be so lucky to live so long and so well. Don't have to pretend it is a nap. And for god's sake, let it be private and let the dead have their dignity. Which is why, naturally, I reacted with the I'm so going to hell now humor. Because I am all about the dignity.

I did go look. I did say goodbye and pat his stiff shoulder. I wish I had stuck to my guns and remembered him living instead.

Then we all drank punch, ate ham and it was over.

I have knit a sock and 12 repeats of Liesel. I want to go home and see my kids and my kittens. I do not want to be here any more.

14 comments:

loopykd said...

You are right, grief and death are both personal and it is none of our (your readers) business how you grieve, sensitively, or insensitively. It is not our place to judge. I hope you feel you got what you needed by going is all I would think of, not how you handled it or any jokes you made. God bless you and your Grandpa.

wondermachine said...

Death is a natural, but its also something that just freaks the shit out of most people (understandably). So a lot of people have ways of dealing it, of making up nice cozy stories of how to deal with it. They're not even their own stories, just passed on, or taught one kid to another.
But your response seemed real to me. Honest. Authentic. Difficult as hell? Hell yes. I'm recalling my favorite aunt dying a few years back and finding myself in the situation when I (seemed) to be the only one really dealing with the reality that she was dying. That that wonderful woman was departing/transitioning/disappearing/going gone and that would be it. Finito.

Seems to me you paid great honor to your Grandfather's memory by being present, not just physically, but also emotionally and mentally. Being honest. I think he would've been proud.

Phoe said...

The last memory I have of my grandpa is the same. Like a wax doll. Looking down and just knowing that that body lying there was NOT my grandfather. Actually, we had jokes cracked too. I think it's how some people deal.

K8 said...

I completely agree with you - last year, flying home to see my brother in a casket was the most out of body experience. It wasn't him. The funeral was closed casket, but we'd gone to the funeral home to see the body. And I had the hardest time walking up to it, but I felt like I had to.

Anyways, I'm so sorry. Grieving is hard, and personal. Sending good thoughts your way.

LizKnits said...

I'm thinking about you... hope the rest of your trip is uneventful.

sopranospinner said...

So sorry for your loss and how difficult it's been there. You'll be home soon. Cyber hugs!

sopranospinner said...

Oh, and I just gave you a Nice Matters over on my blog. Hope it helps!

geogrrl said...

"Let me first say, that I am really profoundly bothered by open casket funerals. Death, I think, is private.

"... Meanwhile, everyone else was walking up, kissing him goodbye, tucking stuff in his pockets and talking about how "wonderful" he looked. And folks, he looked NOT like my grandpa. He looked dead. And that was not wonderful to me. He was wearing too much makeup. He looked like a wax doll. I did not like it. I did not want to be there, in that room with a dead grandpa...

"... I did not want to tuck candy in his pocket or kiss his cold cheek. I respected him enough to not want to see him like that. That is not how I want to remember him and now my last vision of him is cold, dead, in a box, in a suit I never saw before, wearing too much makeup.

"My elderly auntie and other relatives kept saying, 'he is only sleeping. He's just sleeping peacefully.'

"And THAT is when I lost my shit a little bit and said that NO, he is dead. And that it was ok, because at 92 you can be dead and it is sad, but not something to gloss over with platitudes. It just is."

Ditto, all that. I remember going to family funerals as a child, and I always thought the person looked waxy and pale, and DEAD or over-made-up and DEAD. They did NOT, even to my child's eyes, look like they were "sleeping". To this day, florist's shops remind me of funeral parlors. And even as a kid I thought those kinds of platitudes were stupid and self-deceiving. But again, maybe some people need that.

A lot of people seem to need that kind of closure, but like you I prefer to remember the person as I last saw them alive. I do not want my last image of them to be as they were after death. I recently went to a friend's funeral, and while I was happy to pay my respects to her family, and will truly miss her, I refused to go into the viewing room. I wanted to remember her alive.

The one good thing about my family's Irish background is that we still hold wakes of sorts, where everyone eats too much and drinks WAY too much. But they end up being quite cathartic, with everyone talking about the good times, or what and a## the person was. Everyone leaves feeling better, I think.

geogrrl said...

Oh, and I make jokes at funerals, too. It's a way of dealing.

So no, I did not think there was anything wrong with how you're grieving, or your actions.

And, as others have pointed out, it's not my place to judge.

KnitNana said...

I'll concede that there are lots of people who "need" to say their good-byes that way. BUT. I'm with you, dear gal. That's NOT my way.

I want to remember vibrancy, smiles, hugs, jokes, and WARMTH.

I'm so sorry for your loss. But yes, 92 is a great age to die. I'd take that!
((((hugs))))

Tempted Handpainted Yarns said...

I totally understand..zombie jokes and all..Hang in there and do your best to remember him alive. If he where my grandpa he would have thought that joke was funny too.
xoxo Stacy

Ina said...

Sounds like it was a stressful time. I'm glad family harmony prevailed, despite any differences of opinion.

Sachi said...

I'm sorry you lost grandpa. But I'm totally with you on the death thing. I'll have to share my own experiences with you some day. I don't think there were any zombie jokes but certainly it wasn't far off....

Jess said...

Oh, hugs! Great big hugs.

Most of the funerals I've been to have been open casket, so it may just be what I'm used to, but I do prefer to see the body.

Yes, the makeup is wierd, and I completely agree about the euphemisms. However, seeing the body is what drives home the reality of death for me.

And it's funny, but all the fake, freaky funeral home frills actually makes it clearer. When I look down at that strange thing wearing the makeup, it really drives home that I'm looking at the *body*, not the *person*. The person has let go of that shell to move on to better things (heaven, their next life, who knows?) and so I have to let them go too.