death becomes us
I went to a wake last night. As wakes go, it was the kind where the deceased was expected to be deceased at any moment now, and where people are almost relieved that the deceased has "gone on to a better place." There's laughter and friends seeing old friends for the first time in a long time and lots of backslapping and people huddling outside smoking and telling stories. You go up to the family of the deceased and kiss their cheeks and say you're sorry and they smile at you like it's so damn good to see you, even if this is a funeral parlor and your mother's very dead body is on display in the front of the room. It's almost like a "meet and greet" after a rock show, but with a lot of older people in suit jackets and khakis. And the aforementioned dead body. Which, one would guess, you could find backstage at some concerts.
I'm well versed in the way of wakes; I've been to - I would guess - more than 200 or so in my lifetime. Italians are very big on all things death and even the little kiddies are dragged to funeral homes, so they can sit and be petulant while relatives try to kiss their cheeks or maybe they just make a scene by peering into the coffin and saying something like "ewww, grandma's skin feels funny!"
I've been to wakes that are somber and mournful, where the family is inconsolable and the tears flow freely. I've been to wakes (my grandmother's comes to mind) where people (brother-in-law specifically) set up a mini bar outside in the back of their Explorer and everyone gets drunk and have to be told to be quiet and respectful at least a dozen times. I've been to wakes of young and old, of relatives and friends, of strangers who were family members of co-workers and once, to the wrong wake, which was in the room next to the wake I was supposed to be attending.
All these wakes had one thing in common, and that would be - you guessed it - the dead body.
You sit in this room, with the folding chairs set out as if you were at an AA meeting, and when you sit down you face the front of the room and there on display, like Lenin forever preserved, is the prone body of the person you are there to mourn. They often look nothing like what they did in life; too much make-up, or the wrong shade of lipstick or a maybe wearing a tweed suit that they wouldn't have been caught dead in except now, they are just that.
This seems wrong to me on so many levels. Where did this tradition of honoring the dead by staring at their corpse? Does anyone besides me think it's just a little creepy to be gathering around a body that's been drained of its blood and had makeup carefully applied and was dressed up to be put on display?
Well I do, and I'll have none of that. This weblog is sort of public record, right? So I will go on record right now (are you listening, sisters of mine?) as saying if, when I die, my family members deem it necessary to display my corpse to my friends and family, I will see to it that I get an express pass from whoever runs the afterlife giving me permission to haunt you all forever. I will come to you in the middle of the night and sing really bad songs in your ears. I will drain remove the distributor cap from your car and drink milk out of the carton in your fridge and yes, I will make sure that spitback gets in it. I will fast forward all of your video tapes and replace all your CDs with the Best of Kenny G. Trust me, you do not want to be haunted by me.
So, here is what you will do when I die: You will dispose of my body immediately by burning it. Well, you will have it done professionaly and by that I don't mean Uncle Vinny from Staten Island will roll my corpse in a carpet and throw some gasoline on it. I want to be cremated.
Then, you will rent a hall or something to that effect and you will have a nice little memorial service for me, which will consist of some food and some drinks and a little Nick Cave played in the background. You will read past entries from this weblog, especially the ones where I talk about relatives I don't like. And when all the drunken cousins leave, and the last aunt has wrapped up the leftover food in a napkin to take home with her, you will all (all meaning immediate family, not the whole lot of you) get in a car and drive my ashes (stored in a simple Tupperware(tm) container (not to be confused with TupperWar(tm)) and you will dispose of my ashes in the proper manner.
Scatter them over Yankee Stadium. Or Lambeau Field. Or just dump them down the toilet bowl. Just don't try to smoke them, ok?