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.