This morning I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen and we talk of the dead and the living. Later this afternoon there will be a viewing for my brother’s housemate. It will last for six hours, which Granny and I agree is an act of equal parts narcissism and masochism on the part of the family. I remember when Pap died. The last thing I wanted was to hear a thousand variations of “I’m so sorry for your loss” from a line of strangers.
But I’ve forgotten what I’m talking about. At viewings and funerals, they aren’t strangers; they’re “friends.” Granny tells me about two women in Hancock when she was growing up who were received as “friends” at virtually every viewing held, whether they knew the dead or not. It was something to do, and something to talk about afterwards.
A few minutes before our conversation, Granny receives a telephone call from my mother. My father’s best friend woke up this Easter Sunday to find his wife had died in her sleep. When I arrive home for Easter dinner, Dad tells me that yesterday the son of a close childhood friend died after he fell off a roof and landed on a picket fence. I note the irony of so many people dying close to this, the Christian holiday of resurrection and renewal, and mention it to Ashley later. She agrees. There must be something in the eggs.
Five minutes down the road from my parents’ house, a family of modest means gathers together to grieve for their mother. There will be no newspaper articles written about her, no recounting to the public of how she met her husband, no consoling visit from the governor. There will be no crowd at her viewing, if there is one, no majestically sorrowful funeral in a packed church. Her family will mourn her privately, with dignity, among friends instead of “friends.”
Ten more minutes down the road, the viewing of the rich man’s son is the social event of the season. It isn’t being held in the church they regularly attend — too small. No, the big one on the property adjacent to the private school he attended — that’s what we need. To accommodate the woeful throng. Plenty of parking there, nothing to worry about. And if by some misfortune you’re unable to attend the viewing this afternoon, remember that funeral on Tuesday. The burial itself is family-only — you understand — but there’s still the public service beforehand, so don’t worry. You’re invited.