The other night my friends and I went to visit a former colleague (CB) whose father had died. The wake was being held at a funeral parlor attached to a church. It was a typical scene: several parlors sitting side by side, with many of the visitors spilling out of the rooms to smoke while chatting. You can hear people laughing and talking about all sorts of things.
CB is a very pretty woman, but that night everyone could tell that she was plain exhausted. Not surprising, what with having to greet all the visitors while keeping an eye on her very energetic sons, too. I asked her if she cried the first time she saw her dad in the casket. She said she didn't. Her recounting of the events before, during, and after her father's death brought back a flood of memories.
I lost my dad many, many years ago. I don't remember if I actually cried in his hospital room at the moment of his death…but I must have. I do remember with startling clarity the up-down motion of his respirator in the final moments, and the way it stopped, its irrevocable stillness. After that, it was a haze of preparing for the wake, the funeral, informing the numerous friends and relatives of his passing, helping my siblings with taking care of our mother.
Wakes (or lamay, in the local parlance) are strange events here sometimes. If not for the presence of the casket, you would think that you were attending quite a convivial occasion because there's usually lots of laughter. First, the visitors would go up to the coffin and view the remains. Then there would be conversation with family members and/or other guests. My dad's wake was like a big family reunion...relatives from all over the country came over. My uncles and my cousins played Scrabble or cards all night, and conversation was nonstop. Food and beverage flowed. When my friends came to visit me, it was a riot. Sure, they tried to be somber at first...behave the "proper" way. But in no time at all, anecdotes about my dad as well as their own dads had us in stitches. And the fact that we knew we weren't supposed to be laughing made it all the more difficult to stop.
But on the day of my dad's funeral, as I watched the casket being lowered into the ground, it suddenly hit me hard. The finality of it all broke my heart.
I would never again see him finish the paper's crossword puzzle in record time on a daily basis.
I would never again laugh at his corny jokes.
I would never again experience his unique way of driving: super fast, yet ultra smooth.
I would never again see him relax over a snifter of brandy that my mother had poured for him.
I would never again hear those dratted sneezes that never failed to shake the whole house.
It was then that the tears started to fall.