I recently attended a funeral in Dallas. The morning of the funeral, my cousins asked me if I wanted to ‘view’ the body. Most of you will be surprised to learn that I was hesitant about seeing a dead body. Not just any dead body, but a dead body that was related to me. Given that most of my work is about death and I collect dead things, you would think that I would RELISH this rare opportunity. However, I was feeling a bit SQUEAMISH. Yet, I wanted to be a team player, so my two cousins, their 4 kids and I piled into the suburban for the short ride to the funeral parlor.
When we arrived, a sober suited man escorted us into a back room. The smell of lilies permeated the room. Which I guess is a good thing, all things considered. It could have smelled like formaldehyde or something worse. Until that moment, lilies were my favorite flower. Sadly however, they will now be associated with funeral parlors and caskets.
The kids immediately ran up to the casket and peered in. They poked and prodded the body. Aunt Colette, why don’t you TOUCH her? I didn’t want the kids to think I was a scaredy cat, so I closed my eyes and tentatively did the one finger touch. It was kind of like petting a rubber shark from the aquarium.
I was busy looking at the masses of flowers, when one child shrieked, EEEWWW! Mama, did you just KISS her? Of course I kissed her. She’s my mother and I had to kiss her goodbye. That’s soooo gross. You just kissed a dead person.
One kid shouted, She’s cold!! This began a conversation about WHY she was cold. She’s cold, because her body was in the refrigerator. Why was she in the refrigerator? Well she was in the refrigerator, to keep her body preserved. You are talking about her like she was a DESSERT!
This elicited lots of giggles and more questions.
Does she still have her legs? Why can’t we see her legs? Is that her real hair? Why does her skin feel rubbery? She looks like she’s going to pop up and yell at us.
KIDS! Be careful not to mess up her make-up.
Next began a photo opp with my cousins’ I-phones. First we looked at before pictures. The before pictures were horrific. It was difficult to look at them. Think Munch’s Scream. The funeral home had performed a miracle. She looked peaceful, calm and beautiful. Next came pictures of the casket, the body in the casket and then all of us posing by the casket. It seems a bit irreverent, but the kids were very excited about getting their photo next to their Gigi.
The funeral was a graveside memorial with a closed casket. My cousin-in-law who originally hails from South Africa expressed his disappointment in the fact that the casket was never lowered in the ground. He had never attended a graveside service and expected it to be like the movies. The kids gathered flower petals to sprinkle on the casket, during its descent into the earth, but alas did not get the opportunity to throw the petals or themselves onto the casket amidst loud grief-stricken wails.
While we shared a few humorous moments (nothing like humor to temper the sadness), it was an occasion to reconnect with family and celebrate a great woman’s life.
Memorable kid comments—Mama, when my kids are as old as you, and you are as old as Gigi, can I boss them around, like Gigi did to you?
Our laughter encouraged this next comment. Dramatically clutching his throat and making gagging noises, one kid rendered a perfect imitation of his Gigi, Quit poisoning my food, you are killing me.