While taking care of my mother I’d always thought that the death would have been the easy part. I figured that the doses of medication, the equipment, the phone calls, the doctor’s visits, and the diagnoses would have been tricky enough, but that the intricacies of mourning would have been simple. You cry. You awkwardly talk to strangers. You figure out what to say when the lady who works at the grocery store starts crying when she realizes that your mom won’t come in to buy cat food and cookies anymore. You shop for a black dress with pockets so that you’ll have a place to put your hands during the wake. But LeighAnn quickly informed me that I’d been sorely mistaken. Planning a funeral is like planning a shotgun wedding, only with decomposition taking the place of child-labor.
There were the prayer cards to select out of a book. I tried to compare the sets of wallet-sized laminated pictures of saints, each looking skyward as though rolling their eyes at my indecision. I couldn’t choose between the Holy Family Edition and the baroque Old Masters Series, so LeighAnn suggested fifty of each. Next were the prayers to go on the back, like the Bible equivalent of fortune cookie fortunes. I debated whether or not my mom would have been pissed to have the Fireman’s Prayer on the back of her mass card. Instead I chose some passage about death not being so bad, ’cause God was going to flip the resurrection switch eventually, yadda yadda. A smattering of accolades about life everlasting, with a dash of fire and brimstone thrown in. Amen.
Caskets come in metal or wood, and you’d think wood would be cheaper, but no. Good ol’ alloy saves you some coin. Fifteen-hundred dollars for a metal box to put a body in, and my mother insisted on having a closed casket wake. At least that meant that the lining wouldn’t be a determining factor. I selected a coffin the color of Pepto Bismol, possibly because I hoped it would settle the unease that was tossing itself across my stomach each time LeighAnn used her unnaturally smooth fingers to turn the display pages.
Throughout the wake and funeral process I was reminded of a nightmare I used to have as a kid. In it I showed up to a dance recital that I hadn’t been aware of. I didn’t know any of the steps or the songs, and wound up standing center-stage, trying to distract the audience from the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing. In reality, walking in the door with my mother’s name, with the pink coffin and the photographs I’d provided surrounding it, I waited for someone to give me a clue. Do I kneel? Bow? What do I say to her boss? Is there some sort of secret sorrow handshake? Some sort of special recitation I was supposed to be giving? In the middle of the ordeal I left the crowd of cooing, sniffling adults to crouch by my mother and whispered into the explosion of roses on top of her. “Mom, you didn’t tell me it was going to be this big of a deal. You’re so lucky you don’t have to be standing through all of this. You sure got out of this one.”
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