American Death Rituals

On Thursday G and I went to Vickie’s mom’s viewing. These American Death Ritual things are…oh man, where do I start?

Here’s how it goes: we embalm dead bodies and then dress them up in their best clothes and put makeup on them and entwine rosary beads in their fingers–and in this case we even put their glasses on them.
Then we line up the family of the dead person and have them greet people who are at a total loss as to what to say. The grieving friends cry on the shoulders of the grieving family, and the family winds up consoling THEM.

It’s not a good ritual–at least for me.

(G and I had a deep and meaningful talk on the way home about this.)
I think people DO need some kind of venue to express how they feel at the loss of somebody they love, somebody who has been part of their community, their tribe, their family, They need some organized, ritualized venue for this expression, but not this.

Good god, not this.

First, in my humble opinion, they probably do not need to see the dead body of their loved one all made up to look like they are still alive, only sleeping.

Who’s kidding who here, people?

BUT: They most definitely need to EXPRESS how they are feeling.  They really do need to stand before the people who are most affected by the loss and say something, or just give a hug and get one back. They need to be seen, and counted as part of the community of people who are feeling this loss.
So, despite not liking this “viewing” ritual, and believing that it is totally bizarro,, and creeptastic, G and I decided to go anyway. To be counted. To express. To give a hug. There was a need, most definitely a need for this, and this was the only venue.

As we got closer to the funeral home, G started taking big in-breaths followed by long audible sighs.  I was feeling pretty okay, because I didn’t know the deceased, or the family, except for Vickie, her daughter, and I only know Vic as a person I once spent a raucous week at the beach with.   G is her real friend and much closer to the family.

As we are going in, coming out are 2 men in polo shirts and shorts. They look like they just finished playing 18 holes.

Inside, there she is, in the box, all duded up, complete with glasses and rosary beads. G touches her, and frankly, I am creeped out by this.

We go through the line. First up, Kevin, the son. He doesn’t recognize G at first and then goes all, “Of course!” on her, and  totally breaks down.

We work our way down the line: sisters, sisters’ children and spouse, and then finally, Vickie.

Vic sees G and totally and utterly loses it. When I see this, I lose it too.

Life and jobs and time and geography have distanced these two friends, but they’ve stayed in email contact and their connection goes back quite a way, and Vickie’s mother (the dead person) always loved G.

Vic starts to say certain things, like how her Mom always told her that G was so “grounded,” and told her that she (Vic) needed to keep G in her life and a whole lot of other things straight from the heart, and then Vic totally loses it and starts sobbing uncontrollably on G’s shoulder. The appearance of G has clearly brought up a whole slew of forgotten stuff for Vic. This interaction touches me deeply, and I start to cry.

Oddly, I felt really happy that I felt something, that I was touched to the point of tears. I haven’t felt genuinely touched at one of these things for a long time. I didn’t even cry at my own mother’s funeral. But the moment I saw Vic’s face when she saw G, I felt something shoot right through me. It felt like a bullet.

And I bawled.

I did.