05 September 2008

Putting the "Fun" in Funeral

Questions I frequently ponder during funerals: Is there an afterlife, or do we just wink out like a blown 60 watt bulb? If there is an afterlife, what exactly is the deal there? Does everybody look the age they do when they die, or is the afterlife like a giant bottle of Oil of Olay that makes everyone look 25 again? If you only lived to be 47, but your kids lived to be 85, do they get to boss you around in heaven because they are "older"? Is there some heavenly equivalent of needing to take the occasional shit, or are the burritos of eternity completely digested by your soul, leaving nothing for your transcended colon to process? Heaven better have Wet Burrito Wednesday, or I'm having some stern words with the angels in H.R.

...

A few days ago I went to a funeral in Stillwater, and was reminded of a few sentiments. The first was that I don't like funerals, because they call into sharp focus all of the "unanswerable" questions about death. During the service for my friend's mother, the preacher rattled off the traditional funeral outline; this human lived life well, brought joy to others, fought as hard as possible against inevitable death, and is now in a place where pain and suffering cannot follow. I sat there thinking that while the first three assertions were most likely accurate, the fourth was mere supposition. How can one be sure that pain and suffering don't follow a person in death? Or what if there is something awaiting us on the other side that makes pain and suffering look like milk and cookies? And can joy and happiness also not follow us in death, or is it just the abhorrent parts of life that get turned away by some ethereal bouncer? How can two people with two separate concepts of heaven both share the same afterlife? The more I thought, the more my head hurt.

[CUTSCENE TO SAINT PETER GREETING AT THE PEARLY GATES]
"Hey! You must be Krëg! Welcome to the afterlife. What's that? No, there's no cancer or AIDS here. Pretty sweet, huh? But we DO all have contagious parasitic cranial worms that are made of rusty barbed wire, sea-salt and Tabasco sauce. Oh, and also you no longer have genitals and Friday is mandatory bingo night. Huh? What's 'beer'? I've never heard of that. Weird. Well hey, I've got a lot of other people to meet and greet. Stop screaming and enjoy eternity, fuckface!"
[CUT BACK TO REALITY]

Anyway.

The other sentiment caused me to give thanks for once that allergy season is upon us, as it offered alternate justification for my red and misty eyes. I have known my coworker Greg for over nine years now, and while we never hang out outside of work (lunch-breaks notwithstanding), we share enough about our personal lives to technically qualify us as friends. Plus, we've figured that we have saved each other thousands of dollars in therapy bills by just venting our frustrations to each other. "Fuck, you won't believe THIS shit...", is the header of choice for most of our dialog. One side-effect of this rapport is knowing about each other's immediate and extended families.

In 1999, shortly after I started working my current job, Greg's father had a massive heart attack. In fact, the heart attack could technically be classified as fatal, since Gibb had absolutely no heartbeat for over eight minutes. Contrary to all the hard science of human biology I learned from watching the movie Flatliners as a teenager, having no oxygenated blood pumped into your brain for extended periods of time is counter-productive to things like short-term-memory retention, appropriate behavior in social situations (like NOT grabbing random tits), and dressing yourself. Greg's dad proved no exception, and Greg's recently deceased mother ran herself ragged looking after her husband. Four months ago, the decision was made to move Gibb to an assisted living facility, as the strain was beginning to show on his wife. Physically, Gibb is the picture of health for his age; mentally, his headlights have dimmed.

I have never met anyone outside of Greg's immediate family (wife, two kids), but when the funeral service was briefly interrupted early on to allow an elderly gentleman to be escorted to the center aisle seat of the front row, I had no doubt who the man was. The service swung through the usual rigmarole of hymns, scripture readings, and family recollections of the deceased. Pretty standard fare. The man in robes invited everyone to quietly nibble cookies and shake some family hands in the meeting hall immediately following the service. Then the ushers began to "ush" the family out of the sanctuary.

Gibb was one of the first to leave, and I don't think it would have been possible to mistake him for anyone other than the spouse of the deceased. I have never seen so much grief packed onto one singular face, and it temporarily fried my brain. I wondered if he remembered when he woke up that morning that his wife had passed away just a few days prior. I wondered if he knew why the nice people at the facility were helping him dress up in his suit, or knew where they were headed during the ride from the facility to the church. If he hadn't known that morning, it was obvious he was fully up to speed by the
conclusion of the service and the events had brought his mind fully to bear.

As he filed past me and into the meeting hall, I mentally fumbled around, searching for a prayer for Gibb. Fuck. Do I pray that he gets over the loss soon, knowing full well that the end of his grief is probably the result of a decaying mental condition that is slowly erasing the memories of his wife? Or do I pray that he remembers and feels the pain of losing her for the rest of his days, letting the bare flame of her memory slowly burn away at him? Dammit. I think I'd rather think about those death questions some more. I finally just closed my allergy-stung eyes and prayed that he would endure as best he could.

Fucking funerals.

Oh, and happy birthday Greg. I'm sorry it came a mere day after you mother's passing.

3 comments:

zakary said...

Damn.

Well written, by the way.

Lorrie Veasey said...

What a rollercoaster ride this blog of yours is: I laugh, I cry, I feel a bit sick to my stomach.... I can't wait to get back on and do it again.

Krëg said...

Ok, but I'm not cleaning up any puke that isn't my own.