funerals i had been to but i had only been to one wake before Barbara’s. i was in my third year of university so that makes me twenty one years old.
B., my high school classmate, had passed away after a serious illness. the wake took place around this time of year actually. beginning of november. that’s right, after the wake i was sitting at tim horton’s with my friend. we were chatting quietly when a high school classmate walked in. it was his birthday and i remembered it for some reason. he asked what we were up to tonight. after we both shrugged he asked simply, looking at it? we nodded.
such a random scene that i recall in great detail for some reason.
initially i wasn’t really sure whether or not i should go because i barely knew B. but a close high school friend convinced me. so go i did accompanied by a university friend who had recently lost her father. i have experience with this stuff, she said and carried with her a box of kleenex which came in handy.
it was a dreamlike experience to say the least. more like a nightmare. i saw old classmates i hadn’t seen in a few years. i stood in line to offer my condolences to the parents, to the little brother. i still remember him. hunched over in his suit that he would grow into. his eyes were red from crying, looking but not seeing. it’s remarkably bizarre that i only remember his brother. i have no recollection of his parents but him i see very vividly.
then we looked at pictures of B. and i smiled because there was a wonderful photo of him beaming in my kitchen at my y2k new year’s eve party. the one that went out of hand. the one where more than 60 people showed up even though i only invited a few. ah, high school.
the photo made me feel incredibly connected to B. i had only spoken to him on the phone once. about algebra some years prior. his intelligence resonated in the words that he used to explain something to me. i’ve never forgotten how nice he was to take the time for someone that he didn’t know all that well. thank you, B.
this time, nearly sixteen years later, i was the one at the end of the line, receiving condolences. this time i was seated in the front row of the chapel, staring at the assumption of mary, at wreaths and at a brown coffin. it was decided that it should be closed even though apparently her hair looked really nice. the make-up artist had done a good job. good for her, i guess. but it was said that the face was no longer Barbara’s face. a part of me kind of wanted to see it. i only saw it from afar through the glass doors from the entrance hall. the outline of her profile sticking out of the white silk of the lining. the nose that looks so much like mine. the eyelids, closed and still.
i’m glad the lid was closed. people have said that they regret open caskets.
plus, from what i heard, somebody took a picture. disturbing, if you ask me.
the whole catholic thing is not really my thing. it was when i was little but only or mostly because i sang in the church choir with Barbara. otherwise, if you ask me, the catholic church has done more harm than good and doesn’t deserve to be worshipped and followed. it’s simply business as usual for them. my two cents.
maybe because of this opinion nobody asked me about anything. at the time i was kind of relieved not to be involved with organising the funeral. i do wish that someone had at least asked for my input or a suggestion. i did propose that classical music be played in the background. she loved classical music. the proposal was approved.
it bothers me now that Barbara never liked talking about death with me. i’m not sure if she did with anyone else. when she got sick she wanted to keep everything positive and death was not on that list. which i understand from her point of view because that’s how she was. personally, i’ve talked about death many times. i often thought about it as a child, a teenager. i even wanted to be dead sometimes, not necessarily because i was sick of life but because i’ve always been interested in the afterlife. just to see the other side, to take a peek and then come back.
i have my theories, of course, but having st. peter at the gates of heaven is not one of them. i don’t believe that there is a god waiting for you to judge you and to send you to heaven or hell. how could there possibly be a god like that?
Barbara was different though and maybe she did want a catholic funeral.
i will say this that the thought of her decomposing body in a box in the ground makes me ill. it’s not something i would wish for anyone. it seems like such a waste. live your life and then go rot away in the dark. i don’t know. it doesn’t seem right.
but like i said, nobody asked me. because who was i? just a woman who lost her sister. i was not orphaned or widowed. i was just a visitor, a stranger, my last name, yet again, hurling its meaning onto the tapestry of my life. i’m sure it was better that way. discussions would have most likely led to conflict and i know that we were all too tired to have any energy left for that. plus, Barbara would definitely not have wanted that.
the chapel was freezing cold to keep the room fresh, i suppose. if you’ve ever been to toronto in august, you know what a humid heat is. so yeah, the room needed to be kept cold. the smell of the pink lilies made me dizzy. their perfume smothered the air. the cross wreathes, the heart wreathes, the slide show … i don’t know. i didn’t know what to think. mind you, i don’t think i was thinking much. i remember having tea at the funeral home. i remember keeping an eye out for my parents in case they’d collapse. i remember almost being cheerful oddly enough. i was outside of myself. i felt like i was walking through a haze. i was calm, greeting people, chatting, saying hello, thank you.
obviously, i was in shock.
it was nice to see people i hadn’t seen in a while though. a lot of them i didn’t know. they were Barbara’s friends. or friends of the family that she had married into. i didn’t mind meeting them. except fo that one woman who pushed my friend out of the way to offer her condolences. uhm. we were having a moment, lady, and who the hell are you? but somebody else was talking to all those people anyway. it wasn’t me. i mean, my lips were moving, words were coming out of my mouth. my head was nodding, my shoulders were shrugging but i was somewhere else. someone else was moving my body around. like i said, i was outside of myself. i was an outsider.
the only thing that was clear to me then was that i wanted to be somewhere else. it all felt so ridiculous, like a show that i didn’t want to see but had to. i mean no disrespect to anyone who was involved with the funeral arrangements. i am grateful. i just kept thinking that this is not what she wants. then again, i have no clue what she wanted and that makes me endure such sadness that it breaks the remaining pieces of my heart.
you see, when Barbara received a terminal diagnosis, i didn’t really hear the ‘terminal’ part. also, we never talked about it. i stopped bringing it up because it upset her too much. then i put it away as well, out of the main areas of my mind, into a box on a shelf in an attic somewhere, tucked it away until it all came crashing down, box and shelf and then some, through the ceiling and onto my back, pinning me to the ground and leaving me breathless and powerless.
i can’t say that i have regrets when it comes to Barbara. things have a way of settling exactly like they are supposed to whether you like it or not, whether you stress about it or not. there are just so many questions that keep coming up still to this day, probably until my last day, and i merely wish she had told me more about how she felt. if she was afraid, she never said. maybe she never even thought about any of this because it didn’t matter to her. maybe … who knows. i’ll never find out.
nevertheless, it was, above all, her life. she was her own person and i hope that i, at least, managed to honour that, especially when it came to how she dealt with her disease. i hope that she knew how much i respected her every decision that she had made about her treatment. i’m sure i said a wrong thing here and there. i’m only human. but i deeply appreciated her because i truly admired her. i still do and i know that i always will.
by the way, B. also died of a brain tumour.
i fucking hate brain tumours.