Two years ago, and just about a week more, my father’s wife died. Her passing was gentle, but her decline was not.
On Saturday, October 20th, my mother’s father died. He died peacefully and with only a gentle exhalation of breath to mark his passing. His oldest daughter was reading to him at the time. His decline into death was marked by increasingly ‘crazy’ behavior on his part and his admittance into the hospital was at the request of my grandmother, to keep him (and her) safe from his dementia.
With my grandfather’s passing, I will have attended three funerals in the last five years (my father’s father was the first , in March 2003) and there are no more males in that generation of my family. The women, as they do, go on.
I find myself reflecting on the lessons I am being given with these deaths. At being able to watch the process of grief play out across the family and related community. At participating in the grief myself, to varying degrees of visibility. For one thing: funerals, of some type or another, are vital for those of us still living. Even my father, the atheist, was comforted by the funeral mass held for his wife (no body, just a glorious picture of her in a black frame with flowers in a vase nearby). He didn’t expect it, and was doing a mass only because something was needed and it was the most familiar framework for those attending. But it helped him.
My grandfathers had the more traditional viewing (which some call a wake, but unless there is booze and singing, it ain’t a wake in my book) of the body, followed by a funeral the next day, and the burial. My father’s father had a military funeral — no mass, just readings and music and the casket draped with the flag. My mother’s father will have a catholic mass (another opportunity for those of us who no longer practice to be conspicuous as we do not stand to take communion) followed by a military funeral. (No 21 gun salute — mom nixed that — but Taps will be played).
My grandfather, the one being buried later today, was not embalmed. I am now in agreement with not doing so, in as many cases as possible. If only for the environment, and to allow the natural process of decay to work faster. But also because the embalmed and painted bodies I’ve seen don’t look a whole lot other than what they are: dead. I find it incredibly creepy when someone exclaims “He looks so good!” I know they mean well, but only tact prevents me from answering sarcastically.