Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rest in Peace

I don’t know why people insist on open-casket funerals. All it proves to me is that the person so obviously isn’t there any more. They don’t even physically resemble themselves.
I was thinking that this weekend when I stood behind a 94-year-old woman who was saying goodbye to her 92-year-old sister in a brushed metal coffin. The 94-year-old is the last of her siblings left and as she looked at my mother-in-law’s face, she probably saw a very different woman than I did, a very different woman than my husband did. She saw a tiny girl who stole her toys and a teenager who flirted with her dates. She saw a woman who became a nurse and a mother, a woman who worked constantly as they had all been taught by their Italian immigrant mother.
My husband and his siblings saw a woman who gave them the best she could. They were always clean and well fed. She may not have laughed with them as often as she should have. She may not have swung her toddlers into the air, watching their shoes fly off. She may not have settled onto the couch with a child’s head resting on her shoulder while they laughed at the television. But didn’t she also teach them that those are things they should cherish? By her omission and the times she cried from loneliness, wasn’t she teaching them that these are things to include in life?
When she died last week, my husband was out of town. She’d been sick a few weeks earlier and pulled out of it. She might again, the doctor said. But she didn’t. And I urged him not to feel guilty about missing the final moment. It isn’t about that last moment and who is there to claim it. It’s about adding up all of those moments before and relishing them.


Anonymous said...

Very well said. I just attended a very rare closed casket visitation and funeral. I was able to remember him not as he was - lying in a casket but as he lived - vertical and lively.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful made the hairs stand up on my arm, which is my gauge of good writing.
- a friend of Noreen :)

Anonymous said...

I had similar thoughts at my mother's viewing when my sister exclaimed in a loud disapproving voice that Mom didn't "look like herself at all!" I bit back the obvious answer and just sighed in secret relief because somehow the funeral director had managed to make Mom look even a little human ---but not ever again, like our mother. That image and person had been erased weeks earlier.
Please tell your husband (don't know if you want names on the blog) how sorry I am and my sympathy to you and the children as well.

You are right. I'm sure your husband can think of scores of times he was there for his Mom. You can bet all of those times were priceless to her. My own mother, had she been able to express anything, would probably have been mortified that both Bob and I were there leaning over her, squeezing her hand when she passed. Of the six of us, I was the only one at either of my parent's bedsides when they died, and each time I felt as though I shouldn't be there, as though I were intruding on something sacred. Dying is a very private thing, ---- the most private thing we will ever do.

Beautiful piece. Thank you for writing it!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this and all your writings ! - I love when you take me to a place I hadn't anticipated.

Paulita said...

That sounds really difficult. Maybe Earl should feel fortunate that he wasn't able to be there. But then you have to feel guilty about the sibling who was sitting there, timing the last breath to the time the heartbeat stopped. Thanks for your moving (and intelligent) comments

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