For most of my adult life I have been aware that my Dad didn’t want a funeral. Or a memorial. My Mom never wanted a ‘viewing’ or an open casket. I was okay with all that, I agreed that ‘viewings’ were morbid affairs. I thought that funerals were an unnecessary expense, I mean, ashes to ashes and all that, why go to the fuss and bother of a big send-off? But now I’m not so sure.
My aunt woke me up at 6:00 am last Thursday and told me that Dad had passed. My youngest brother was there that night to help with Dad. We called my sister to let her know. I had to wake Mom and tell her that Dad was gone. My little brother went to his ex-wife’s house to pick up his daughter. We all sat in the living room with Dad’s body until I called hospice about 8. We said our goodbyes, we shared some memories. The hospice nurse showed up about 8:30 and went about her business. She notified the body farm. She left. The mortuary that collects the remains for the farm showed up about 10. They were very respectful and very efficient and they had Dad ready to go by 10:30.
I imagine that everybody that goes through this process finds this moment, the quiet men in black suits and rubber gloves, the deceased wrapped in a shroud, the gurney being rolled out the front door, emotionally devastating. But for me and my family this was it. Our last goodbyes were said, Dad was gone and never to be seen again. Most people have a few days to process the grief from death to final goodbye; we had 4 1/2 hours.
Maybe it’s the same regardless. 4 days or 4 hours, would I have ever had been ready to say that last goodbye? Would seeing Dad for the last time in a casket been any better than on that gurney? Maybe the 3 or 4 days between death and funeral give us time to decompress, to prepare mentally to let go. I knew for the two weeks prior that this moment was coming, but you’re still not ready when it actually comes. The finality is unexpected. To deal with that in 4 hours, that was tough. By 2 o’clock that afternoon the hospital bed had been picked up and the couch was brought back in from the garage. The walker and wheel chair had been put away. The last load of laundry with my Dad’s clothes had been done. His meds were destroyed (hospice rules). His ashtrays and coffee mugs were cleaned and put up. All that was left were the memories. In 6 hours. It was, and still is, surreal.
I used to think I knew how I wanted my end-of-life arrangements handled. Now I’m not so sure. Funerals and memorials aren’t for the dead, they’re for the living.
To die completely, a person must not only forget but be forgotten, and he who is not forgotten is not dead. — Samuel Butler