The single most horrible moment of my life was seeing my brother’s body before it was sent to the crematorium. Most funeral homes provide this service to families; a short, private viewing of the body so the loved ones can say their final good-bye. I didn’t want to go, I had this cold lump of dread gnawing at my stomach all morning but I knew I’d wish I had if I refused on the grounds of it might “upset” me too much. I could just hear Eric’s mocking voice if he were still here and not lying on some cold slab in the dark recesses of the Warlick’s Funeral Home, Boo hoo…ya big fuckin’ pussy! He would have been right, I was being a pussy.
What a ragtag group we made when we met at the funeral home. There was me, my mom & dad, my niece and my brother’s heavily made-up current wife, Carolyn. We liked Carolyn, what wasn’t to like? Imagine a somewhat large and top-heavy southern woman with a bleached blonde Susan Powter hairdo and a Paula Deen accent. Apparently she was also a good actress too because she was married to another man within two months after my brother died. There are some women that just can’t be without a man.
Miranda backed out of the viewing at the last minute, she didn’t want to remember her father that way after all and I didn’t blame her one bit. The first time death touches your world can be a big, incomprehensible shock especially when you’re a 15-year-old girl. Kim (Eric’s 2nd wife and Miranda’s mom) came in from the parking lot and sat with Miranda on a stiff Victorian settee while we gathered our courage to go ahead with the viewing.
A representative of the funeral home lead us into the back and slowly opened a door, nodded for us to go in. I hung back, girding my loins and hating with all my heart the ever-present funeral music that drifted down from little speakers on the ceiling. You know what I’m talking about, somber moog renditions of The Girl From Ipanema or Just A Closer Walk With Thee. Carolyn rushed forward into the room, wailing and from what I could tell from out in the hall, throwing herself over my brother’s body and kissing him. My parents followed next and stopped just short of the metal gurney containing my brother. They didn’t quite know what to make of Carolyn’s immense and loud grief not being the demonstrative types, but finally they saddled up to the gurney and began to cry softly. Carolyn continued to wail and rock back and forth with my brother’s body in her arms. I barely walked into the room and stopped near the door. Little by little, they said their good-byes and left the room. I told them I’d be along shortly and shut the door behind them. I walked up to my brother and all time stopped. My arms and legs began to tingle and a feeling so alien and odd overcame me, the only way to describe is to say that felt like someone had flung a bucket of ice water on my soul. I couldn’t believe my brother was gone, dead, this body on this gurney. My brother did look like he was just lying there taking a nap and not for the world, dead as a doornail.
Don’t you just hate those people that go around funerals saying the deceased looks so good that if you didn’t know better, you’d swear they were just asleep and not DEAD? I’m here to tell you, that remark isn’t even remotely comforting to a grieving family and yes; we roll our eyes after you walk away and say, What a f**kin' tool .
The funeral home had done a good job preparing my brother for a viewing except for putting something I would swear is eyeliner on his upper lids. Oh lord, Eric would have hated that, I can just hear him, I look like a goddamn fruit with this shit on!
I wished I could cry, I think I would have felt better but tears wouldn’t come. I’d cried when I received the phone call that afternoon at work when my mother had called to say Eric had died and again later that same afternoon when I'd spoken to Carolyn on the phone. The tears refused to come again no matter how many flowed around me. I felt like a monster.
“Damn you, you weren’t supposed to die first. You were always supposed to be here to look after me.”
“Listen, I'm sorry I didn't get here in time. I didn't realize you were so sick… You try getting a flight out of DC, last minute, not going to happen for less than $1500.00 ! So, I rode the damn Greyhound for you, all night long jammed up against this fat dude with a cat carrier in his lap, that's what a good brother I am. I tried.”
“Yeah, I’ll watch after Miranda, promise. She’s smart, I think she’ll be alright.”
“Hey, you don’t look half-bad with eyeliner.”
I laughed and shut the door behind me.