on the post-mortem visit

I was lead down the dark and quiet hallway of the mortuary to the room where they held your body.

I didn’t want to be here but was asked to come and support the family in the funeral planning and preparation, which included preparing your body. They wanted me to put on your makeup. Why they wanted me to do this sacred task I was not sure.  You had on occasion called me for emotional or financial support and my guess is that they may have found the letters I had sent to you over the years and understood the distant yet loving relationship we carried.

It did not matter really.  You were the only child, of nine, that sacrificed and took care of your mother, my grandmother.  You had been there for me and gave me a place to lay my head when I had nowhere to go. You co-signed for me to get my first apartment at 17. You fed me when I showed up at your door.

Yet, you never escaped the thread of alcoholism and domestic violence that runs through the family.  You lived a life of secret mourning but which only I, your husband and children knew about. I saw both the beatings and the results of the them, and, I saw your response, or non-response to them. Outside of your closed doors you gave so much love that the entire town seemed to fill the pews and take up all the standing room at your funeral.  This was in stark contrast to the empty pews remaining at your husband’s funeral, which I would come to support several years later.

I gasped internally when I saw you.  I had not seen you in five years and they did not prepare me for what I would see.  I knew this visit would haunt me for the rest of my life.

You died in a car accident. You were drinking and driving, as you always did, entered the intersection without stopping and you were quickly called home. You were the third of your siblings to die this way. I questioned why I was doing this because your face was so damaged that I did not see how on earth I could make it beautiful.  A flash of anger coursed through my bones because it was obvious to me that you should have a closed casket funeral, but, the choice was not mine to make, and besides, had already been made.

I took a deep breath, put aside what I was feeling and picked up the makeup bag.  A few family members arrived while I prepared you.  They stood behind me, watching, crying, moaning.  I was performing a task wherein I knew I could never be satisfied with the end result.  After doing my best to cover the damage I put down the makeup bag, took another deep breath and walked out to hug and console those waiting outside.

What am I grateful for?

  • There is a passage in the bible, Luke 9:60 that reads “ Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  At the face of this, Jesus sounds pretty cold.  After supporting, planning or otherwise participating in funerals of family members (six as of today), the most recent being in 2016, I finally understand.  The energy I utilized was in support of those spiritually dead.  I do not regret the support I gave.  What I am grateful for is to have grasped this distinction, in understanding I need not feel and act on a sense of duty to them, rather, that my steps should be directed to a sense of duty to Him.  
  • Cattle Call! She never talked about my abuse but I think she knew about some of it. Every week I would go to her house, she would take me to the store, get a beer, get me a soda and candy, then take me to the Cattle Call arena, let me sit on the hood of the car and drive slowly around listening to my laughter and letting the wind blow through my hair.  I would always scream “Freedom!” in pure delight and joy. However illegal the act was, they were happy moments in my childhood. No one had before her taken time to take me out for the sake of taking me out and I am grateful for the love and the memory.

I suspect the struggle of directing my steps will exist for a lifetime, but I’ll persist until my time comes…


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