Or something. Fill in your own title.
As he was working up to that, his children (youngest in mid-30’s, oldest … 50’s?) began hashing out the limits of the will, working out what they could get, and how soon. Ma has lifetime tenancy in the house they shared for two decades, presupposing that she maintains it; after that, it goes to his kids, who can sell it and split the proceeds. His kids were asking her how long she was planning to stay there. Several times. Doesn’t she feel that the house would be too much for her to manage? Several times, again. In his hospice room, while his labored breathing was falling to a few times a minute.
Class. The family is all about class.
When he finally cashed in, he was set up at the local funeral home for viewing. I just barely get the whole viewing thing, but I do get it; sometimes, until you can actually see someone lying cold in a box and refusing to move, thank you for a cup of coffee, refuse another beer, or leer when you show your jutting protruberances (hey — you deal with death your way, I’ll deal in my own), sometimes you just can’t quite grasp the enormity of the change that has taken place. He was to be viewed early that week, shipped over the mountains, and buried next to his grandfather on Wednesday. His mother prefered that there be no viewing in Pilot Rock, her location, which was why it was available in Albany.
One of his kids was already on the far side of the mountains. Coming over to look at the body, going home, then going to the funeral was going to be something of a hardship. He asked, not Ma (read “next of kin”) but his older sister if there was some alternative. Older sister asked the funeral home if it was possible to have a viewing at the cemetary. They said, yes, that is possible.
This was not put to the next of kin, mind you. This was the first time that something could have been done better.
The eve of the funeral was a joy, and Older Sister arrived. There would, she noted, need to be a viewing at the graveside. Ma disagreed, saying that Larry’s mother had asked there not be, and that that had been published early and to everyone. The conversation stopped there. Second time that something could have been done better.
And then the funeral. It went, as these things do. Everyone afterwards says how the centerpiece at the showing would have liked it, and how appropriate it was. I’ve never heard a review of a funeral that didn’t include those statements. I suspect that the guest of honor must always be very forgiving of the proceedings, to have such easy approval of them so regularly. Doubtless there are other, more moving things on the deceased’s mind at that point. (”What in hell am I going to do with all these flowers? Could no one bring a forsaken vase?”) The preacher finally called the game and everyone broke up into the clusters they break up into, moving sidelong toward the parking lot. Whatever had come before, Closure has been attained now at the cost of some flowers and a shovel; there will be bland cake and shallow comfort at the local church, and we can all move one with our lives.
Older Sister moves in on Ma. ”Now we can open the casket.”
Ma was a bit fuddled. ”Buh — no.”
“But Younger Brothers haven’t seen him, and the funeral home said it would be okay.”
“Yes, but his mother didn’t, and I don’t, and we discussed this earlier. No.” Third place something else could have been done.
Older Sister retired briefly, to return as Ma (agitated) began to move toward the parking lot. She returned, though, grabbed Ma and turned her. Still gripping her lapels, she yelled “Why won’t you relent?” (yes, people speak like that. I was witness) Wretched Offspring and I were standing as bodyguard, but both of us were cut off with the suddenness of her return. Fortunately, Shannon and Sharon (Larry’s nephew’s wife — I barely track these relationships, honestly, but Sharon is a female mensch, whatever that should be called) had moved in from the wings and cut her off, one before and one behind. Separation took place, because these two are Not To Be Trifled With. Josh, Larry’s nephew, commandeered a vehicle and shipped Ma away, leaving WO and I to deal.
Acting on my first impulse, I pulled WO with me, overtook Younger Brother, and started toward the casket. ”Where are we going?” I think it was Younger Brother asking.
“To talk the undertaker into doing things he shouldn’t do.” My sole intention was to get all four of the kids together and let them defuse their anger quietly and away from everyone else.
I don’t know just what happened, here, but I know that the undertaker and I were centers of attention. I mustered up all of my linguistic, persuasive might, and let it all out in a single haymaker of a question:
“Ma is gone. I’m her son, these are the deceased’s kids. Can we please open the casket now?”
He answered as I realized he had to. ”Nope. Her call.”
I am never defeated. I shrugged my shoulders and nodded. ”I understand.”
Younger Brother was appalled. ”So we’re his kids, and we don’t get any say?”
I looked at him. ”No. Ma has say, just as your wife would if it were you. Would you want your family having their way over her wishes?”
I looked gloomy. I had fought so long, and against such odds. To be overcome was…I shook my head. ”I’m sorry.” And moved away.
Older Sister called after me: ”Thank you. Thank you for understanding, and for trying.” I waved, unable to look back, manfully mastering my emotions.
I understand that, after everyone had gone, they hijacked the allen wrench and opened the box for viewing. I simultaneously feel that is too bad, and a very good thing. I told Ma about it, and told her to compliment the funeral home on the way that the undertaker acquit himself. She wasn’t happy with the results, but passed compliments nonetheless.
Things that could have been done differently:
1. Ask the next of kin instead of fiddling with everyone else. ”Could we have a viewing before the funeral, well before Larry’s mother is there for it?”
2. Either Older Sister could have said, “I made a promise to YB that he could see Dad. I was wrong, but can you please help me?” or Ma could have said, “I already told you no. You disregarded my wishes, your grandmother’s wishes, everyone’s wishes but yours. However, I understand the need and can rise above this –” then proceed as in #1
3. Ma could have noted as in #2, instructed the undertaker to wait until everyone had gone but the kids (and Ma — she has strong feelings on Duty of seeing things Done Right), wait out the viewing, and then bury him.
I have never, in my life, seen such poor behavior as I saw from everyone involved in this mess.
It is, of course, continuing. There is still the will in probate, and Ma may yet be routed from her home so that they can sell it now rather than wait another ten (twenty at most) years for her to be unable to manage on her own out there. The kids are making the rounds of the family, asking everyone, “Don’t you think she’s going to have trouble managing on her own?” and telling everyone “I’m just worried that she’s letting the place go, and if it devalues….” If it devalues then Ma hasn’t maintained the place, and perhaps can be ousted.
Such lovely people. And somehow, I’ve been letting my life be eaten by this trash.
Well, time to reclaim it, I think.
The catty thing I said to WO and Shannon after the funeral:
It was a good funeral. Ma tried to run the show, his kids took it over, and the special occasion ended with a vicious tug-of-war over who got to have him, during which Larry just laid there.
Just like he did all his life.
Crossposted from Epinephrine & Sophistry