Wake to Sleep
"We make the circuit," my mother explains. "We see the body and we leave. We don't make eye contact. We don't talk to anyone unnecessarily. Are these rules clear? In and out, no distractions." The rules are clear and, I imagine, essential.
We were at the funeral for the benefit of Dan and Becky, not because we were close with the departed. While Becky had opted to have the girls come, they would not be doing so until later and it gave us fewer liabilities. This would not be like Emily's father's funeral, with mourners eulogizing the dead in heart-wrenchingly detailed anecdotes. While I grabbed a tissue as we entered - there were boxes every seven feet in any direction - it was largely because I felt a bout of allergies coming on.
Dan and Becky were standing near the door. My mother took the side mission of signing us in on the guest register while my father and I commiserated and greeted them. I wasn't sure what to say, so I stood and nodded. They did not seem devastated, but they may well have been anyway. Not everyone feels the need to get their emotions out and processed immediately, though being the daughter and affianced of daughter of the subject of bereavement allowed them that unashamed privilege.
My parents gather around Lisa, a long time family friend through my mother having babysat her, and have a hushed conversation. Is it true, they wonder, that her partner Johnny is encouraging her to move in with his mother? It is true, at least, that Lisa is not presently pressing the issue owing to tact but is certainly far from fond of the concept. Becky, too, had mentioned this to Dan and his reaction seemed to mimic Lisa's, adding to roughly "You are welcome to do whatever you are going to do, however my child and I are going to remain in our own house."
We enter the funeral proper. I keep my eyes level. There are people in the benches (it is not a church, thus these are not pews) but I note them only out of my periphery. "What's with the puppet?" I asked of a limp camel puppet next to a stand of photographs. Millie, a woman for whose children - Lisa and Michael - my mother used to babysit, answered that John frequently used it with his granddaughters before his death.
"It was always Poppa and Joe," she sniffled. I had not seen her for years, likely more than a decade and she didn't recognize me at first. The feeling was nearly mutual given the turmoil this funeral so clearly bestowed upon her. As far as I knew, her closest affiliation with the departed was that his son Johnny knocked up her daughter Lisa in the confines of commitment, yielding the beautiful podling Eva.
My parents reintroduce us and she manages the kind of smile that breaks hearts with pity. "We dress him up as Harry Potter for weddings and funerals," my mother adds, motioning to me.
Out of her earshot, I inform my mother that I hate her. It is not that I mind the crack. My nieces noted the resemblance before I cut my hair, as have children in third floor windows. What I minded was the fact that I had to stifle a giggle in front of mourning witnesses who might not understand the context.
"She looked terrible," my mother says. "I just thought it would cheer her up."
I glance over the pictures of John affixed to a board. Him dressed as a cowboy or Captain Jack Sparrow (quite a few of these, actually). John and Joe, both kissing a more diminutive Eva. Just relaxing in an easy chair which, I couldn't help imagining, was the site of his demise. Having little prior knowledge filed away about him beyond "Seems like a nice guy, likes the nieces appropriately, doesn't say much," it is eerie to see his life laid out in artifacts. It felt like being entrenched in a novel when a tertiary character dies for some reason or another. Instead of going on, the Cosmic Author then seeks to fill in all the minutiae of the background character's life up to that point. By this point, it is much too late to do anything with this information, but it is there nevertheless.
My parents and I whispered to one another as to the protocol of the kneeling bench. I simply knelt as I was told and tried to give my attention to objects that had not been animate for a while, if ever. The black cowboy hat that would be buried with him. Pictures of family moment that would join him in the grave. Strangely artificial, tan lips... No, wrong. Don't look at those, I warned myself silently. Those are real despite appearance of plastic and paint. I changed to glance up at his face and saw that he looked like a mannequin. After having written that I did not know him beyond his use as furniture for children, it was unnerving to see that he had become little more.
We rise in near unison, not concerned with how we may appear to the other mourners. To care about their concern would be petty. Also, it would imply that we deviated from our mission statement to avoid eye contact as a means to minimize collateral damage and this we simply cannot do.
We walk to another cluster of pictures and letters his granddaughters made. I looked over the scrawls without much comprehension, a string of "we miss you" and "I lov u" poking through my attention on the picture Leelee drew. It featured her grandfather at the moment of death, going so far as to include a half lidded eye on a body that is otherwise a tan blob in another blob representing the chair. To compensate for viewers who are not literate in the language of childhood drawings, some female adult helpfully labeled the players in this vignette: Mema, Leelee, Poppa. I hate knowing that this affected her this much and I hate more wondering if she was encouraged to do this picture and why.
Soon in Xenology: Anniversary.