Part 3: Where the Author and His Family Partake in the Age-Old Rituals of Sitting With the Body and Eating Egg-Salad Sandwiches with the Crusts Cut Off to Make Them Look Dainty but Really Just Resulting in Egg-Salad Falling Out the Sides Which is Really Quite Gross
A very close friend of mine just lots his grandfather. He told me that it was the first time that he had lost someone that was very close to him, and I can appreciate how wrenching that would be. On top of the horrible feelings of loss, not having gone through the rituals of death before adds just one more element to deal with.
I keep telling my wife not to have a visitation for me. I know the historical imperative: you had to stay with the body all night until it was buried so that it didn’t turn into a zombie or a werewolf or a vampire (or some freaky combination of the three, a “zamwolf”). But are we still that superstitious? Can’t you just stake my heart so that we don’t have to go through all of that?
For Aunty Phyl, we of course did the late-night visitation, staying into the evening as people trickled in to look at the old photos that my in-laws had framed or blown up, listening to a digital photo frame play “Memory” from Cats over and over again. I was told that I was not allowed to bring in a deck of cards to keep us busy during the slow points, so for most of the evening we sat on the uncomfortable, flower printed couches that are standard issue in a funeral home (God forbid we have a Lay-Z-Boy in there).
I know that the theory is that friends come to the visitation to comfort the family, but I nevertheless had this strange feeling that everyone was showing up to see if Auntie Phyl was really dead. At 92, that’s a fair question to ask, since you’ve gone well past the national average. The casket was closed, however, so if they did show up for that purpose, they would have left with doubts. Speaking of which, I’ve told my wife no casket either. I really don’t see why dead me should pay $2000 for something that will either rot in the ground or be burned in the world’s largest EZ Bake Oven.
“You can burn me just as easily in a refrigerator box,” I tell her, “and then you would have one less thing cluttering the garage. In fact, have them burn the broken card table in there. And that big bag of yard waste I keep forgetting to throw out.”
“I don’t think the cremator’s will take yard waste,” she tells me.
“I’ll put it in my will, so they have to do it, on pain of… haunting, I guess.”
Auntie Phyl’s funeral service was as much fun as any I have ever been to (i.e. emotionally exhausting and painful). My mother-in-law made everyone cry with her eulogy, then had me go up and whimper my way through a reading immediately after she was done. I’m not that emotionally sturdy a person, but when someone puts the first three chapter of your book in your great aunt’s casket next to an angel ornament from her church “to help introduce her to everyone in heaven,” you would have to be a stone-cold son-of-a-gun indeed not to shed a tear.
For reasons like this, I have made it very clear that there will be no funeral when I die. I will be burned (in the aforementioned refrigerator box) and my ashes will be launched by catapult or trebuchet at a castle made out of cubes of green Jello.
We all retired then to the “party room” (Whoopee.) for refreshments. In addition to the egg-salad sandwiches in the title, we also had all the other standard tiny sandwiches (ham and cheese, assorted vegetable, croissant-wiches, and something that might have been turkey), each one too small to hold comfortably without the filling barfing out the sides when you take a bite, but too big to shove fully into your mouth all at a go. We drank coffee and tea (the old people put their cups on saucers, which we thought was stupid), tried not to mustard-up our fancy clothes, and debriefed.
As I said before, it’s a strange way to honour the dead. I suppose the funeral does bring closure for some people, but I want the last memory of people in my presence (even if it is in cremated form) to be a different one.
The list of wake items for me (below) must be followed. On pain of haunting.
- 4 Subway Party Platters (no green peppers).
- A pina-colada/daiquiri machine.
- Darts (lawn or other).
- A cotton candy machine.
- No songs from “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” or “Fame.”
- 7 bags of beef jerky.
- A competition-level poker table with a professional dealer.
- 3 kegs non-domestic beer (if you try to slip in any Canadian or Coors Light, so help me there will be a-haunting going on big time).
- A bouncy castle (preferably one with a slide).