A Funeral Can Really Spoil a Girl's Weekend [ 2004-01-22, 12:09 a.m. ]

I am hard pressed to remember the last time Kent and I had a ďnormalĒ weekend. Throughout December (and into January) we had houseguests and holidaysÖthen, the weekend before last I flew to California for my brotherís graduation. Last week Kent and I were looking forward to our first nothing-to-do-and-nowhere-to-go weekend, but unfortunately, it was not to beÖIím sad to say that Kentís grandmother died early Thursday morning, so he and I both flew to Cincinnati this last weekend for the funeral. Kent actually flew out first, and I joined him Sunday night, in time for the funeral on Monday. Getting there was a huge suck-fest of an ordeal, complicated by bad weather, expensive tickets and indecisive mother-in-laws, but I did manage to make it intact, beginning my trip in West Side style with a late dinner at TGI Fridays (oh, something I may not have mentioned? Iím a restaurant snob Ė I donít go to Fridayís. I donít do the Awesome Blossom. I just donít).

Then, first thing Monday morning, I saw my first dead person.

I have led an extremely fortunate life, funeral-wise, and have not lost many loved ones. I have been to exactly two funerals Ė the first for my great-grandmother, who died at the age of 99 when I was in college; the second for my grandmother who died five years ago this Valentineís Day. Neither funeral was open-casket, neither involved me going to a funeral home. Neither involved a body.

But Monday morning Kent and I wanted into the funeral home where his family was gathering, pre-funeral, and my mother-in-law immediately grabbed my hand and said, ďCome see Grandma.Ē Then she pulled me over with her to the open casket, where her mother was laid out. And it was startling. Not scary, not sadÖjust startling. There was no mistaking her for a sleeping person Ė there was no life present. None.

When my grandmother died she was cremated, and her funeral was actually more of a memorial service. There was a priest, there were friends and family and flowers, but there was no casket, no body, no ritual. It felt like we were all there for her; with Kentís grandmother, I felt like everyone was so focused on the body that it was impossible to remember the person.

The funeral itself was fine Ė some extremely appalling poems were read, tacky flowers abounded, and I swear one of the priests was giving me the stink-eye throughout, but it was fine. Following the mass, we went to the cemetery for final prayers and goodbyes Ė and by this point in the day, my lifeís entire funeral-related activities have increased by about 200%. I tried really, really hard to stay solemn and respectful, but honestly (and Iím being really honest here, which might mean Iím a Bad Person), I hated it. Hated. It. My husband is a wonderful, wonderful man, but his family has the most god-awful taste of any 50 people ever gathered together, and the solemnity of the occasion did nothing to improve it. There was not one part of the day that made me stop and think, hey Ė thatís a nice idea. Babyís breath flowers, hideous neckties and un-ironic mullets abounded. I canít overstate how much I hated the funeral (and all itís various pre- and post- activities). Maybe Iím blessedly uninformed and inexperienced regarding funerals, but I Hated. All. That. Shit. I found no dignity or respect, only artifice and deliberate sentiment. I want people to feel free to mourn and grieve and talk and remember and honor and say goodbye. But over my dead body will my dead body be laid out for all to see, made up and on display. Burn me or bury me, but please donít prop me up in a bad suit with a face full of latex and embalming fluid. There has to me a more natural way to deal with death Ė there just has to be. The entire process was so artificial and sterile. It was creepy.

Cemeteries donít bother me Ė I like walking through them, I like the history of them. Hospitals donít bother me. But the funeral parlor Ė made to look like a house when it was clearly home to no one Ė bothered me. I keep thinking about it, and about how much I donít want that for myself. But I say that from the comfortable position of having lost no one close to me. If (knock wood, salt-over-shoulder, phtooey) something happened to someone I love, I may sing a very different tune. Itís hard to say.

A few years ago I was in Ohio with Kent, and his parents told us about a gift his grandfather had bought them Ė twin cemetery plots, adjoining his and Kentís grandmother. How sick is that? His grandfather is in his 90ís, so itís appropriate to be considering such matters. But to a) buy cemetery plots as a gift, b) plan for your healthy, middle-aged childrenís death, and c) assume your son and daughter-in-law want to spend eternity with just seems bizarre. I canít imagine a worse final resting spot than laying head-to-head with my in-laws.

See, I told you I was a Bad Person.

After all the funeral activities my in-laws decided that they needed to take Kent, me, and my sister-in-law (A) out for dinner to celebrate A completing her masterís degree. Now, she completed it back in the fall, but because I am The Woman Who Keeps Their Son Away From Them and Therefore Ruined Their Lives, Kent and I havenít been in Cincinnati together since she graduated. So of course, what better time for a graduation celebration than three months after the fact, immediately following a funeral.

SoÖ

We went to dinner at an Indian restaurant in Hyde Park, at Aís choosing. I loved it, and was thrilled to see something other than an Applebeeís, Outback Steakhouse, Perkins or Fridays (seriously, thatís all there is on the west side of Cincinnati). Kentís parents, despite a valiant effort to appear happy, were clearly out of their element. They were good sports about it though, nearly finishing their meals and barely complaining. They are extremely kind, generous people, but worldly they arenít (which is fine, but I'm kind of a snotty bitch sometimes and like to write about them on this site).

After dinner I forced Kent to take me to a late movie, just for the excuse of being away from family members, even if only for a few hours. We saw Cold Mountain, which I loved, and were the only people in the theater, which I loved even more. I enjoy Cincinnati (well, almost), but every frigginí time I go there my days are planned in 30-minute increments with unending family obligations. Some alone time with Kent was a relief.

We have nothing planned for this weekend. Iím not crossing my fingers though.

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