Maybe this all effects me so because the first deceased body I ever saw was my grandfathers. I knew he had been sick because he lived with us and was bed fast, other than that though, I had no real understanding that with his kind of sickness (stage four testicular cancer) he was not going to get well. Even when I woke up one morning and his bed was empty and my parents told me that he had died during the night, I still did not understand the concept of death. It wasn't until I walked into the mortuary with it's dim lighting and the heavy scent of flowers in the air that I realized that things would never be the same in my life. As the mortuary attendant pulled back the sliding door to the room where my grandfather's casket lay, I could see the top of his face. I walked carefully in only to suddenly realize that what was laying in the casket was no longer him. This shell was all that was left and it terrified me. Even being bed fast grandpa always smiled, laughed and was animated. He was full of stories and laughter and now, he was simply still. Never would he smile or laugh on this earth again and all of this was just more than my young mind could fathom. I remember digging my heels firmly into the floor and shaking all over. As my father tried to push me forward (I don't think he had realized the level of my trauma) I stood firm to my spot. When he finally did get me to move, it was backwards and over him. I darted from the room half screaming, half crying and full on terrified. Needless to say, I didn't end up attending that funeral, but the mortuary visit is still as vivid to me today as it was all those years ago.
Since that time, I have lost many people from my life and I have attended many visitations, rosary's and funerals and each time a part of me feels just like I did that day as a little girl. The worst probably for me was the funeral of my 6 week old daughter who died of SIDS. The loss itself was traumatic but nothing prepared me for the viewing and funeral. I wasn't sure I was going to survive it all. I obviously did but it remains a deep scar on my heart and I am not sure that I could ever attend the funeral of another child.
As I said, there have been others. Many others in fact and they simply don't get easier. The pain that fills the air, the tears and so many people walking around trying to say the right thing when deep down everyone knows at that moment, there simply is no right thing. It is just awful. The end result is always the same. The body we see and bury is just a empty shell. The person we loved, knew and called our own is no longer there. Often the body doesn't even resemble the person anymore because what made that person...... left and moved on the moment of death. Reconciling the person we loved to the shell that remains is almost impossible. I truly hate it.
The only thing that has gotten me through some of the funerals closest to me (those on my mom's side anyway) have been family. My mothers family is huge and no matter how sad the funeral or how great the loss, the family gathering post funeral is always amazing. As strange as that sounds, it is true. My family mourn by remembering. As we all sit around, that is when the memories pour forth and the stories begin. Then there is always laughter. Sometimes there is laughter until there are tears. Or maybe the laughter is simply covering the tears. It has been my experience though, that when the stories are flowing as well as the laughter, then that is the moment we all begin healing and I can't help but feel that the one we lost is looking down and both laughing and crying right along with us. It is an amazing feeling.
I have given it a lot of thought over the years and I somehow think that the old Irish Catholic idea of a good and proper wake might still be the way to go when someone leaves this earth. The body would be brought to the house in it's casket and put in a room where everyone could come pay their last respects. Meanwhile in another room, one heck of a party would be going on. There would be stories told of the deceased and memories shared, along with a toast or 20 to the person for a life well lived and a quick and peaceful journey into heaven. No one in attendance would have a choice but to grieve and then to also begin healing. It would certainly be better than a cold and dimly light mortuary with all the silence and heavy floral smell. After all, shouldn't the whole process be about celebrating the persons life here on earth and their new life in heaven? The mourning is for ourselves and our loss...not for them. They simply don't need it!
The bottom line is, death and ultimately funerals are inevitable in life. It doesn't mean I like them and aside for the need of burial, I am not even sure I really understand them. I guess it is closure for those of us left behind. Ultimately though, if anyone is listening.....I am all in favor of bringing back the Irish wake. If I have to say goodbye....I would much prefer to do it with a few tears, a toast and some wonderful memories that leave me with a smile......until we meet again!