Friday, February 13, 2015
So Frank's viewing was last night and his funeral is today. I walked right up and gave him a look see, told him I was glad to have known him though I suspect whatever might be left of Frank was already with Dorothy. We went to Dorothy's funeral and it was the first catholic funeral we had ever been to. I had expected to see her body at the viewing, which I did, but was not expecting to walk into the small lobby of the church and see her there where everyone was crowded in. And I thought the whole communion thing around the casket was weird but I guess most ritual is weird.
This looking at a dead body thing is new to me. For all my life I had avoided looking at a dead person. The funerals I went to with open caskets, I would avert my gaze. I'm not really sure where this aversion came from. Probably my dad. He was a pathologist albeit a reluctant one. He wanted to be a surgeon but then he got TB during the war. Afterwards when he was well, he let others convince him it would be too strenuous for a survivor of TB and so he became a pathologist. Someone who dealt with the dead and with the diseases that killed them.
My father hated death, hated funerals, didn't want to have a funeral, hated black. We were not allowed to wear black in my house. He had a few black suits, of course, but he also had and wore a peacock blue suit, a canary yellow suit, an emerald green suit, a burnt orange suit. I loved his colorful suits. He wore red socks with his tuxedo.
Anyway, he didn't want us, his family, to see his body after he had died. His father had died when he was 13 and he claimed that that final image of his dead father was the only image he could conjure up and he didn't want his children to remember him that way. So when he died of a massive stroke in the middle of the night and when I got to the hospital which was an hour's drive away and the nurse asked me if I wanted to see him and spend a few moments with him, I told her no. Judging by the look on her face, she didn't think much of that but that was his wish. And so I continued to decline to view the bodies of family and friends.
Then my brother-in-law was dying* and in hospice care at home and I was helping my sister and being there and figured it was time for me to experience death, dying, and dead bodies. It was imminent, my sister's girls who he had mostly raised had arrived and I went home for a brief spell and hadn't been home 10 minutes when they called, it was time, it was happening. He passed before I got back so I missed the actual dying. But I got a good long look at his dead body. And you know what? There wasn't anything icky or scary or terrible about it. And it's not the only way I remember my brother-in-law.
So back to Frank. Talking with his son Allen, we learned that Frank did not, as I had thought, die in his sleep. He actually had a pretty good day, even was outside in a wheelchair for part of the day. Allen had been over to visit, Frank ate a good meal, went back to bed. Zaide went in to check on him and Frank was awake, he reached out and took her hands and breathed his last.
I think that's how I want to go. Quietly, easy, in old age, but awake.