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the waking life

Wakes are perhaps the most bizarre ritual known to modern man. Think about it.

You are sitting in a room with a dead body. You sit in the back, chat with relatives you haven't seen since the last family member died, and all the while there is a corpse on display in the front of the room.

Now, I am Italian. Maybe it is just inherent to Italian people to treat wakes like get-togethers. We talk, we laugh, we tell stories. And while everyone else is doing the meet and greet thing, I am always looking out the corner of my eye at that coffin. I just keep thinking. Dead person. Dead person in room. Yea, that's a corpse over there. Aunt Mary is laughing and Uncle John is cursing the Yankees and some kids are hunched over a Gameboy. And there is a corpse up there on display. Why not just prop the dearly departed up in a chair, put a beer in his hand and everyone could go up and take pictures with him? What? That would be any less surreal than discusing your golf score while leaning on your uncle's casket?

Grandma's wake somehow turned into a party. Sure, I had a hand in it. We were all sitting around the funeral parlor, watching people go up and kiss the lifeless body of our grandmother, and I remarked that I needed a drink. A stiff drink. No pun intended. Really.

Obviously, we had all been thinking the same thing. We broke into action. Within twenty minutes, there were about 40 of us outside in the parking lot, the back of my brother-in-law's truck opened up and stocked like a fabulous bar. Someone ran to 7-11 and got cups. Someone made a quick drive to the liquor store. And we sat there in the parking lot of a funeral home in a cold December drizzle, telling stories about grandma and giggling nervously whenever anyone said She is going to haunt us for this, you know.

I think we do things like that at wakes because sitting in a room staring at a dead relative is a bit unnerving. What's more unnerving are the things people say while staring at the open coffin: (all true)

-Staring at coffin: Oh, he looks fantastic!
-Looks like he lost some weight before he died! Finally!
-Well, he is getting the peace he never got while he was alive. Oh, I didn't mean that as an offense to you. I'm sure he loved you.
-His fly is open.
-So, can I have his golf clubs?
-So is this dress she's being buried in like a last little prank on her?
-Mom! Kevin is checking to see if Aunt Ellen is being buried with underwear on!
[Which are all better than bringing a dog to a funeral, I suppose]

I would like to say, right here in print, preserved on the internet, that when I die, there better not be any wake. There should just be a party with jello shots and tequila and chocolate layer cake and music. Maybe someone will strip and dance on the table by the end of the night. Everyone should just have a great time, not talk about me at all, and be happy that your last vision of me was not my decaying body displayed in a pine box. Unless you intend on propping me up and putting a beer in my hand and taking pictures of yourself on my lifeless lap. Then by all means, go ahead.

Comments

...chocolate layer cake...
Mmmmnn..What? I can't wear my kilt and skirl up the bagpipe for ya?

The Irish do wakes well, too. Same idea. We sit, we see people we haven't seen since the last wake. The only difference being that afterwords we go out and get really drunk.

I have requested (altho I wonder if it will be honored) a wet bar be provided at my wake. Also video of the classic 'Who's On First' and most anything by George Carlin be played in the corners. Another room can have music being played, AOR that you can't find on the radio any more (not easily at least)

You can't have a bar with eats, so some kind of buffet makes sense.

If I am dead, then remember me by having fun. Why waste time mourning me? If you have Faith, you know I am much better off. If not, you know I am finally getting enough sleep to make up for all I went without when alive.

The last thing I want to know is people all weepy over me. Such a waste of a good party.

i'm ready to party whenever you're ready to kick. i may not be, if you wait 45 years though :)

my aunt brought her [BIG] dog to my wedding...

"Anne"...we do wakes <emright.

as opposed to how we daft bastards handle HTML.

My grandmother owned a bar,and at her wake we did shots on the kneeler rail in front of the casket.

i thought i was sposed to get naked and dance all through the night, not just at the end?

That's in the official version, G. Being notarized as we speak. Start getting in shape, k?

all we need is to somehow fit a jukebox in the story and we have ourselves a country song...oh wait....

Anne, you are absolutely right about Irish wakes.

Coming from an Irish/Italian family, I've been able to experience this particular phenomenon and, I have to say, I always found the sight of my dead dearly departed propped up in a room always freaked me out, too. The only thing that made it any better was alcohol ... lots of it ... which was never a problem because, well, I come from an Irish/Italian family. We got pissed on wine before my Italian grandfather's wake and blotto on whiskey and beer after my Irish grandfather's wake. It's a regular party.

I don't want to do the casket thing. Crank up the music, open the bar and have a good laugh. Hmm, think I can put that in my living will?

We'll do our best to get Anna Nicole Smith as a mourner.

Ditto for our family's Irish wakes. My wife has already heard me repeatedly say "No open casket! Lots of liquor! Bury me wherever the heck you want."

Maybe the picture that we can use at your wake will be the one with the well placed Baseball cap.

I'm with you on the open casket thing, michele. I don't want for people to be stuck with an image of me in their minds, wearing way more make-up than I ever did while living. The comments would be more along the lines of "She looks so...tarty..." instead of "Doesn't she look peaceful?"

I want to be cremated, anyway - and the ashes scattered along some foggy, rock-strewn coastline. And I'd prefer that be done before the wake, not after. Ever since seeing "Meet The Parents", I can't get that scene of the cat using the urn's contents for a litter box out of my mind.

I hate, hate, hate "viewings". Definitely up there among the most traumatic experiences of my life is hanging out in a room with a hideous waxen facsimile of a beloved relative while still in the throes of grief.

Then again, my family is thoroughly WASPy and does not do big social wakes.

Michele,

I read this and thought of the wake in "Clerks" and the scene later in the same movie when Randall says "My mom's been f---ing a dead guy for years; I call him 'Dad'."

Curious, just for the sake of conversation, would you feel the same around someone in a "PVS?" How do you feel in a nursing home? Or a hospital in the presence of someone in a coma?

I used to tell people I'd go away for a while someday, shave my head, get some outlandish tat on my dome, and then regrow my hair before returning to "civilization." Then have it in my will that my head be shaved at my wake. It'd horrify my family for generations! :) lol Of course, what if I got Alzheimers and then lost my hair? Joke's on me! :)