16 October 2007

The Viewing, as seen from the granddaughter's perspective

When I was a child, my grandmother was hospitalized (I think that time it was for a hernia, well, one of them).  I was so young that they wouldn't let children visit, but they would allow me to wait in the little stale common room, just opposite the bank of elevators.  I remember sitting there, bored out of my scull, uncomfortable, and trying not to let it show.  My parents were sympathetic to my plight, and engaged me in conversation in an attempt to distract me from the agony of waiting.  And yet she still did not materialize.  I am hazy on all the details, but I do recall with a sharp clarity that still makes me chortle one shining point of comradery with my parents.

All was quiet on the floor, and then in the distant, a slow lumbering rumble was approaching.  I sat up straighter in my chair, peeling my bare thighs off the sticky plastic and squiggling back into the chair, absolutely no sign of slouch to be shown in grandmother's presence, no sir, no way.  My father, the son of said grandmother, who would receive a call from his father years down the road, leaned close to me and said, "sh, she's coming now."  and the rumbling grew louder, and my spine was so straight there was no curve, and my father continued, "she's coming.  yep, here she comes" and a white clothed orderly pushed a laundry cart past.  You know, one of those deep canvas carts that held huge mounds of white sheets, all tussled and balled up.  I was still perched on the edge of my seat, so my feet could touch the floor (having decided that it would be more proper than letting them dangle) and my dad said (rather boldly, rather loudly), "and she pops up!  waves (he demonstrated), 'hi there!  hi!' there she goes!" as the cart disappeared into the elevator.  i gapped at my father, his eyes merry and bright, his face lit with a smile that was rare and heard my mother smothering a guffaw that escaped a little in a barking kind of way that called forth a giggle from me.  and since it was ok, and a good thing it was cuz i doubt i could have held back, i snorted and snickered and chuckled and before you know it, the three of us were weakly collapsed over each other there in the waiting room of the hospital.  i don't recall if i ever did see my grandmother that visit.

Viewings are such barbaric affairs.  They had their place and reason, but such a god-awful waste and aren't they just too gaudy?  My mother always warned us that if we insisted on a viewing for her, that she would come back and haunt us indefinitely.  Unless we could rig it so that she would sit up and give us all the bird at random intervals.  That's just the way my mom is.  I love her so, sigh.

My grandmother's viewing was, well, a carnival.  I sat toward the back of the drawing room that opened into the funeral parlor.  Such fancy names, yes, but it was an old house and it was a small town and that's the way things were done, there and then.  I watched my aunt, and her daughter, steal scene after dramatic scene.  I tried to feel sympathy for them, or at the very least remind myself that their tears, wails, nay! cries of despair and the rest of the gnashing of teeth and rending of clothing may have very well been sincere.  As of yet, I had maintained a low profile, and I liked it that way.

However, it was not to be.  My cousin, oh she of the dramatic tears, came to me, knelt before my chair and clasped my hands in hers.  She snuffled and her blotched face crumbled again.  Then she bravely stood, hauling me up, and fastened an arm around my waist and began to walk me up to the coffin, saying, "i'll be by your side, i can't believe no one has offered to be with you in your time of need, in this hour of grief, ohhhh you poor poor thing."  I briefly thought of pulling away but the struggle would have been unseemly and it really was easier to just go thru with it and get it over.  or so i thought.

as we neared the coffin, with it's lid closed on the bottom half and the upper half propped open as though to display a jewel, i saw with great discomfort that the single rose that i had bought at the florist with my lowly student funds (i was 22, in college, the first in my family to go to college), the rose that designated me as her granddaughter, as though defining our relationship is some deeply symbolic way, that i knew was a farce...the damn rose was the only item in the coffin with her.  it was clasped in her hands, on her chest.  and say, didn't her chest look immeasurably smaller than i'd ever seen it?  yes, why she looked snug in there, but it wasn't as tho the coffin was extra wide or anything.  well, those morticians can work wonders i suppose.

my father joined us just as we neared the coffin and he leaned his head down toward me and i flipped back to wheni was a child, in the hospital waiting room and dad trilling, "hi there!  hi" and waving enthusiastically.  the laughter burbled out, i quickly clapped a hand over my mouth, spun on my heel, and dashed toward the front porch.  my mother saw my exit and joined me out there, with the rain steadily dripping from the eaves and the air too chilly for other standersby.  my cousin, of course, came to be a part of the drama and my mother cut her off, steered her back inside, saying, "she's just overcome, she needs a moment." as i brayed laughter into the rain and the whooshing spray of the passing cars, truly crying now, crying tears of laughter.  my mother stood guard, knowing that i was unable to stop my chuckles.  as they would die down, another round would burst out of me and i just couldn't stop.  that's the way i remember that day, in January 1993.

(to be cont'd)

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