One method of coping with funerals is to focus on unusual things during such somber occasions.
In days of old, funeral practices were undeniably unsanitary. It was common to lay out the deceased on the kitchen table. Since tables back then were usually made of rough-hewn wood, some decayed matter from the body probably slipped into the cracks and crevices and became a part of the table. The thought of sitting down to dinner at a table on which some dead relative left little particles of his or her essence could make a non-squeamish person lose their appetite.
The first funeral I attended was in the early years of our marriage. Our daughter was only a year old, and we chose to stand behind the crowd at the cemetery. Just before they lowered the casket, the funeral folks opened the cover. Then the relatives took Polaroid pictures of the dead aunt. Afterward, they passed the photos around. “Doesn’t she look natural?” many remarked.
It was one of those rare moments when the all the stars were in perfect alignment. I kept my mouth shut and did not speak my mind. “No. She looks dead.”
Following the service and burial, the attendees went to the family’s house to pay their respects. Thoughtful folks brought mountains of food which I thought was for the family so they would not have to cook for a few days.
The guests shoveled food in their mouths as though they had not eaten in months instead of a few hours. Yes, many countries have wakes or similar functions to celebrate the life of the deceased, but the eating frenzy at funeral feed fests is nothing short of Gorgies.
The day before our family scattered our father’s ashes, my youngest brother and a friend picked up all the litter along the path leading to the lake in the center of the nature preserve. In the morning, our family procession was solemn until we reached the lake and found a pair of frilly panties fluttering on a bush.
Instead of scattering Dad’s ashes, the eldest brother dumped the contents of the urn at the base of a pine tree. There was Daddy, piled at least four inches deep under that tree.
Several months later, Daddy was still in a thick pile under the pine tree. I wondered how long he would have to remain there before the winds took pity on him and finally scattered his ashes.
At a relative’s service held in the Baptist church, a flash of light caught my son’s attention. Hanging above the sanctuary was a mirrored disco ball. He buried his face in his hands, body shaking with muffled sobs (or so everyone thought). The very idea of a disco ball hanging in a church whose members did not believe in dancing had him shaking with muffled laughter.
One never knows what will trigger funeral stories. For example, there was the lovely dinner party with friends during which we unearthed the following tale.
When Bruce died, a friend carried out his final request. “Scatter my ashes over the ocean from an airplane.”
At the chosen spot, the friend opened the container holding Bruce’s ashes and then opened the airplane window. The entire contents of the container blew into the small plane. Then Bruce’s ashes suffered the indignity of being sucked into a vacuum cleaner before a more careful scattering took place.
When you think about it, George Carlin, the comedian, had the right idea. “The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backward. You should die first, get it out of the way.” And then, live life in reverse.
Sometimes there is a need to focus on peculiar and even funny things while we try to deal with loss. Surely our loved ones would want us to remember happy times and find reasons to laugh rather than cry after they leave us.