My mom’s visitation would be an entire day-long event. She had a lot of friends and was very involved in the community so the largest room at the funeral home was secured. I put on my new blue dress, small dangly earrings that were like a little gold cage with fake pearls inside, minimal make-up, and somehow arrived at the funeral home with my family.
Before things began, we were ushered to a small room. The room felt crowded. I wanted it to just be my siblings, my dad, and I. But, my mom’s brother, his family, and my mom’s parents were with us. I didn’t like that. I wanted it to just be us.
The casket would be closed, but we were asked if we wanted to see my mom before. I quickly said an emphatic, “No.” I was the only one who dissented.
Someone, I think on the staff of the funeral home, told either me or my dad, that it would be good for me to see, to know that it’s all real.
Could they see that I was totally out of my body and possibly not breathing?
I felt a definite pressure to participate in this viewing of my dead mom’s body. As much as I did NOT want to enter that room, I am absolutely glad that I did. I was already fantasizing that she was alive and simply in the witness protection program.
Since she died, just two days prior, I felt totally and completely detached from myself. I hadn’t been to visit her, didn’t have a cherished ‘last memory’, and my guilt was growing—literally multiplying by the moment.
Well, if I felt out of my own body since the time of her death, walking into that room, stifled by too many people, slammed me right back into it.
She looked horrible, emaciated, so very sick. We chose the navy dress she wore for my brother’s graduation for her to be cremated in. She loved that dress and now her ravaged body was lost in the fabric.
I didn’t want to see her because I didn’t want it to be real.
But, it was real. Too real. At 47 years old, my vivacious, bawdy, Muppet-loving, the life of the party mom was gone. No life left.
After a brief time, we left the room. The casket was closed.
Time to greet the masses.
My mom’s friend Maria, a local florist she often worked with, created a blanket of flowers to be draped over her casket in the shape of a pig. I don’t know why, but my mom loved pigs and had been collecting them for years. Miss Piggy was her ultimate favorite.
This blanket of flowers, beautifully and creatively shaped as a pig, would have made her so happy. I remember being so touched by the gesture of her friend.
The day was long and the line of mourners never seemed to end. A couple of my friends, Tammy and Allison, stayed the entire day. When Tammy’s family came, her mom held me tight and cried with me. Their family gave me so much stability and love in the prior years that I’m not sure they will ever truly know how powerful that was. Just simply providing a space for me to dwell was profoundly impactful.
The Dude wasn’t there but all of his friends came and told me he would want them there. High school boys, stepping up and stepping in. It is so crazy to think at that time there was no way to communicate with a boyfriend on his family vacation. I sure hoped he would read my letter right when he got home so he could know what had happened.
More and more of my friends came. I was touched and felt every single hug and act of kindness.
I remember when my friend Moff came. I broke family ranks and walked straight back to the entrance to the room, stifling my sobs as I went. I was so sad, broken really, that the prayers we prayed in five European countries earlier that summer hadn’t worked.
I never actually lost my faith in God though. I was angry and confused but knew God was there. Even if I didn’t always feel it.
At the end of the day, my siblings walked up to me as I sat on a couch with Tammy and Allison. They were holding the sign-in/guest book and asked me if I knew how many of my friends came throughout the day.
“A lot” I answered.
“Over 85! How is that possible if we weren’t supposed to tell people?”
“What? Do you mean you really never told anyone?”
I couldn’t hide my shock and confusion.
At the very end of the time at the funeral home, our old neighbor from Lenox St. looked at me with sadness and said, “Today was rough honey, but tomorrow is going to be so much worse.”
But I still needed to get through that night.