I plan my father’s funeral often, which maybe ought to be awkward since he’s still very much alive, but somehow isn’t awkward because it’s a pasttime we share.
I’ve yelled lots of yells at my father for choosing his funeral songs too early–Amazing Grace to be played on the bagpipes (and have you ever heard the bagpipes played in close quarters inside a small church? because I have and our sweet baby Jesus did not make human eardrums to withstand such an assault. why, even Queen Elizabeth the Second who was, in fact, buried this very day, made the piper stand in the hall outside the church for her interment, which Tells You Something, doesn’t it?) and It Is Well With My Soul, the hymn. My father has completely and utterly ruined both songs for me, for when I hear them, tears prick my eyes, and my chest siezes tight, and I pre-mourn his death, the bastard.
My mother and my brother and his wife all detest my abiding hope that we’ll follow my father’s memorial service with a traditional Irish wake, like the after-parties we had following our weddings with booze and laughter and stories at high volume. And I think they’d be OK with the whiskey (which is spelled with an “e”) flowing, but they recoil at the open casket I plan to have, my father’s shell placed prominently next to the fireplace dressed in its finest suit.
“Over my dead body,” my mother says, and then she giggles because even she is horrible sometimes and realizes it might be over her dead body, indeed.
Uniformly, they agree it’s “creepy” and “weird” to have a dead body attend its own wake, and also that, Protestants as we are, “no one wants to see that,” and “if they did–if they really must” then “maybe, maybe” the time for that is at the funeral home during a viewing where people can choose whether or not to look, as opposed to in my living room during a fraught time with heightened emotions, and what if someone splashes him with booze?
And I get it. Sort of. I mean, I know people have Strong Feelings about such things and that maybe I ought not make that decision for them, but the husks of people are, to me, cathartic and lovely, and I feel at ease sitting with the vehicle that transported these people I love for so many years, like the way I want to pet a beloved, worn car that safely moved my family and thank it for its service upon its retirement. For being the outward symbol of the soul I cherish, you know?
Maybe you know. Maybe you’re Team No Thank You for viewings.
Gloria, my friend, died twenty years ago last Saturday, which is impossible to believe even still, two decades later, because she was one of those humans who’s Too Alive to Die. Like, too loud and too joyful and too bouyant to be breakable. But that, sadly, isn’t how it works. Everyone is on the Death Train (something I would rectify if I could just once win my bid to be elected God), and Glo’s stop was earlier than I liked. I attended her viewing (in a funeral home and sans booze because her family is Normal), and I’m glad, and I figured the friends who didn’t would probably regret that by now.
Newsflash: they don’t. Not a single person who didn’t sit with her body wishes they did, so I won’t be able to use that as an anecdotal data point to someday give my father the wake he deserves.
None of which is the point of any of this, but my brain is driving so who knows what our destination will be? Certainly not me.
I do, however, know what I originally intended when I sat at the blank page, and it’s this: to remember Glo.
She had a laugh like the startling blast of a fog horn.
No part of her was dainty.
She was a no-nonsense nurse. Thanks to her, I look at my own urine every time I’m done peeing to make sure it’s Copious and Clear. “Copious and Clear, Beth. Otherwise, drink more water.” I’m typing this with water at my elbow, Gloria responsible for twenty years of hydration. Also, some bright red blood in your stool is fine; it’s the black tar-like sludge you need to worry about. And also-also, if it’s wet and not yours, don’t touch it. I learned more about body fluids from Glo than from any other single human, including my children who covered me in them (“wet and not yours” being impossible to avoid when one becomes a parent.)
Gloria was a devoted sister. Never did any big sister love her baby brothers more. Never was one more proud. Never was one more engaged. I wish my brother had had a sister like her growing up. Probably he does, too.
Glo was a horrible driver. The actual, literal worst.
And she was an excellent friend. We spent the weeks before she died sitting on my front porch at night, smoking cloves and Camel Lights and drinking beer and talking about Jesus, the former because I didn’t know how to inhale without choking and she decided to mentor me, and the latter because we were beginning to suspect Jesus might be wilder and more radical and less conventional than the church gives him credit for.
We visited her grave on Saturday, five of us. The same five who were there back then, grieving together, confused and muddled and lost but also not alone, which was the Grace. One of the friends brought scrapbooks and one of the friends brought Glo’s old music and a pile of pics and two of the friends brought flowers because they’ve all grown up in the last twenty years into thoughtful, adult humans who make lovely gestures. Me? I brought a beer. Not even the kind of beer Glo liked. Just a shitty beer from the back of my fridge where it had been left to wither. Because I knew Glo would laugh her too loud laugh and drink my shit beer and ask if anyone remembered the cigs and be, all, “How about that Jesus, right?? Wilder than we thought!”
It was, in other words, perfect.
So, friends, for those of you who know Grief, I hope you’ve found Grace along the way. And too loud laughter. And also, I think we should all consider funeral after-parties, a.k.a. wakes, someone please make my dreams come true.
P.S. This was us then.
And this is us now.
P.P.S. I came home and looked on Amazon for temporary hair dye before I remembered it took me three entire years to grow out that silvery gray and, by God, I will be glad I’ve lived these years to grow it. Sometimes I just need a hot, shallow minute to adjust to being an Old.
P.P.P.S. If I die young (you know, anytime before age 99), I’d like a satirical rendition of Friends Are Friends Forever sung by a robed, gospel choir, please. And I hope there’s someone who is deeply appalled at the laughter because they think I wanted it sincerely. I have other songs I dearly love, but you’ll have to guess BECAUSE I DON’T RUIN SONGS FOR PEOPLE FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES, DAD.
1. I managed to lose my previous email lists because that’s the kind of organized, magical human I am. If you’d like to subscribe to receive emails with new blog posts, you can do so here.
2. I’m back to planning retreats! You can find all the info here. I’d love to have you join us.