Tag Archives: funeral

John Kelley’s Wake

Back in the main room of the pub they were playing “Auld Triangle” on the speakers — The Pogues version, as if there were any other. It was sundown, and in the distance you could just make out a halo around the crown of the Prudential Center. Spires of frosted orange sunlight shone through the bay windows at the far end of the bar, the silhouettes of panes framing all the faces that turned out to say farewell. I wasn’t in much of a mood for talking — Irish funerals also make for massive social events — but looking out at the crowd that had gathered at the bar, it was nice to see the diversity of lives that John had touched over his however-many years.

Before the sun had set, it had been one of those beautifully grey New England days that bugged my knee, so I’d been using my da’s old shillelagh as a crutch to help me walk. A few folks tried to offer me their stools to get me off my feet but I ignored them, not wanting to deal with all the small-talk conversation that would surely come along with it. The more funerals you find yourself at, the less inclined you are to go through that same dance every time:

“What’s good, brotha?”

“Ah, ya know, hangin’ in there. How ya been?”

“Good, good, yeah. Besides, you know.”

“Yeah.”

“Fuckin’ shame, y’know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I think he woulda liked this though. It’s a nice way to honor him.”

And so on ’til you puke. “No, he wouldn’t fuckin’ like it,” I always wanted to say, “‘Cause he’d still be fuckin’ dead, and having the corpse of the recently deceased prance around the funeral would really do a number on his loved ones, don’t you think?”

But instead the conversation shifts to some nostalgia, as if you and who you’re talking to have any kind of bond worth catching up on, besides being spat out on the Earth by your mams in or around the same zip code. Of course, it’d be rude to say, “I don’t care where you’re living now, I haven’t seen old-so-and-so, and I don’t care that she’s fat but since you asked I think it’s pretty fuckin’ rude of you to say so won’t you kindly piss off so I can grab another drink and drown the pain.”

It would take me at least another dozen pints until I got that honest.

Memorial GIFset

Kelly stands with Amy in the back corner of the Mourning Customer Service parlor, watching a GIFset of The Bot’s life set to a soundtrack of minor key piano parts and synthesizer strings. She turns around to face her friend and says “I’m still not sure I really believe this is happening.” She folds her arms across her chest and shivers.

“I know what you mean,” Amy says, and wraps her arms around Kelly’s neck, pulling her in to an affectionate hug. Kelly keeps her arms across her chest, and both eyes set on the biopic GIFset. A moment passes. Kelly drops her stiffened shoulders, letting Amy pull herself closer, share in the warmth, and protect them both from the oppressive overhead cooling fans of the over-air-conditioned room.

“I’m so fucking pissed. Still, so fucking pissed,” Kelly says when she finally shrugs Amy away. “I’m sorry if this is rude or whatever, but seriously, what the hell was The Bot computing? What the hell process went through its tinny fucking head that made it do this?”

“I wish I knew,” Amy says. “I wish I knew.” She steps forward and tries to put her arm around Kelly once again, but Kelly squirms away, her body writhing and twisting like the snarl on her face as she avoids the forced affection.

“There’s like five thousand people here and no one ever wants to have a real conversation. It’s all just, ‘woe is me,’ ‘it’s all said.’ Of course it’s fucking sad! Of course it sucks!” Kelly closes her eyes for a moment to collect herself, crushing her fists into tiny rocks at her side. “It’s just, you can say it all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that The Bot was wired wrong, that some stupid fucking algorithm didn’t add up, so it Force-Quit every program and scrapped itself to fix the problem.” She collapses into the dark green loveseat with the red and purple vines stitched into it. She drapes her arm across her forehead as she sinks into the cushions, lets out a sigh, and then the punches the throw pillow beside her with her balled little hands. “And to top it all off, I didn’t even make it into the fucking GIFset. Like I wasn’t even worth a kilobyte in its memory,” she says, and stares ahead and watches the pixelated pictures of The Bot’s life flash by.

Amy sits down on the arm of the couch beside her. She motions towards the screen and says, “I think they just cobbled that together off of what they found on Twiblrspace.” She places her hand on Kelly’s knee.

“And I wasn’t a part of any of that,” Kelly says. “I wasn’t even around enough to make it into The Bot’s public cloud, or its Twiblrspace, or anything. I wasn’t there enough to know that there was something wrong, some virus or some wires crossed or —” Kelly waits until the threat of tears has passed, until Amy breathes a sigh of strength. “Where’s the backup?” she finally says. “The Bot had a cloud. That’s where you said they got the GIFs from. So the data’s still there. Still somewhere, anyway. So where’s The Bot?”

Amy smacks her lips. Her head bobs slightly as she swallows, shuffling her tongue around inside her mouth. She places her hand on top of Kelly’s. She breathes. She stands. She walks away.

Automourning

At the wake, Walter stands beside the barren case that used to hold the Bot and receive its mourners with a firm handshake. He is mobbed by hundreds of its friends whose names he can’t remember. They look at him with pity in their eyes like he is some pathetic puppy dog and they whisper things like I’m sorry for your loss and it was such a good Bot and the Bot would have loved this and if only it had realized how it important it was to so many people and you should be proud to have built a Bot like that and they flood the room with their sodium liquids shouting why, why, why would it do that, it had so much more to function for, and Walter nods and says yes I understand and they keep walking or they press their crying bodies into his, smearing makeup and moisture on his favorite black jacket and move on to the next awkward greeting.

For Lenny

I’m a terrible person.  I must be.  Lenny is devastated, and I’m just twiddling my arthritic thumbs until lunch.  He’s not even crying, just sitting in the front row, staring at Alexandra’s casket.  Alexandra’s ten-thousand-dollar casket.  I think the budget for the funeral was fifteen—that’s what Millie said—and they bought their neighboring plots decades ago.  When Lenny told me how much he spent on the box, I nearly crapped my Depends.  Not to be insensitive, but that’s just impractical.  A guy like Lenny could live on that much money for months, maybe even a year.  He’s not thinking, doesn’t have any kids to think for him or talk some sense through that thick skull.

I should be sad.  Everyone who walks up to that podium starts out saying what a beautiful, kind creature she was.  Creature?  She wasn’t a bug under a microscope; she was someone’s wife.  People may just be walking sacks of meat, but they matter to other sacks of meat, like Lenny.

Thinking about meat makes me hungry—more proof that I’m a terrible person.  I don’t know why thinking about meat makes me hungry; I can’t even digest the stuff anymore.  It makes my stomach hurt so much, I think I’m crapping out my spleen. Alexandra used to make pretty fair fig bars for bridge night, before her eyes started going.  Before her memory turned into a glitching time machine and her hands tremored like it was always thirty below.

I feel bad for Lenny, I really do, but how long do I have to sit in this place to show that?  Sitting in the car like some forgotten toddler would be a welcome change over this.  At least the car seats are cushioned.  These folding chairs are bringing out every crick in my back that ever was and ever will be.  You know those metal chairs with the plastic seats so cheap that they bend under a bony ass?  They’re that kind.

My stomach keeps gurgling, but no one notices because everyone’s body has been making ugly noises for the past hour.  They should call us the Orchestra of Elderly Emissions.

I hope he doesn’t ask me to go up.  I’ll shake Lenny’s hand, share a beer or nutri-shake or whatever else our pitiful intestines can take, but I can’t talk.  Not like all these “creature” people.  I played bridge with her.  That’s it.  Millie and I went there once a week to play cards with Lenny and Alexandra, and Lenny and I only did it so we could pour a couple cold ones after while the girls gossiped about the other old folks in the home.  We never gave a crap about the game.  I’ll tell Millie we should keep going every week, keep him company.  I think he’d like that.

Everyone’s standing.  I must have missed the cue.  I hope we file straight out of here to some reception.  The non-casket money must have been enough for some finger food, too.

Open

There are two rooms.  One for the casket,
one for the service.  The latter
is larger, meant for Christmas sermons
and mass amens.  Too many pews
for our small service, but it has the projector.
That’s what matters.  The same dozen pictures
cycling over and over on the ten-foot screen,
because that’s all there had been time for.
A dozen pictures.  Newborn baby girl
looking grandpa in the eyes, reaching
for daddy’s midnight stubble.  Her daddy,
my brother.  He isn’t even crying.
No one is.  In the other room,
people sit and pray.  The same look
crosses everyone’s face as they pass the casket,
all five stages of grief in a split second before
something human in them dies.
It’s open.
The casket is open.
Whispers say that can’t be her,
that loosely tucked body with the porcelain face
and the fingers curled just so.
She can’t be the one in the pictures.  She spent two days
breathing outside the womb.  It took longer than that
to preserve her sleeping state on a steel tray
before they transferred her to this padded box
and left the cover open.

 

iWake

The first thing I did when I walked in the room was make a bee-line towards her parents. I wasn’t prepared to face the brutal truth of the situation, so I embraced them instead. We kissed each others’ salty wet cheeks, and gave our best apologies, uncertain of what else to say.

As I was preparing myself to continue down the line and shake her older brother’s hand, I noticed a flash of light in the corner room. I turned around, and noticed Aaron kneeling over the casket with his iPhone out. I excused myself from the receiving line, and darted over to him, lifting him up by the shoulder pads in his suit jacket.

“What the hell are you doing?” I hissed through gritted teeth.

“What?” he replied, dusting off his jacket. “I was taking a TwitPic of the corpse. You know, just in case like, people couldn’t be here, and they wanted to see, maybe say some prayers at home. You gotta embrace the technology, man. Even in a funeral home. It’s no longer a local culture, you know?”

I refused to justify this with a response, and instead returned to my place in line, offering my condolences to her brother, and sharing lighthearted, humorous memories from the time we lived together. We laughed, however gingerly, as we reluctantly celebrated a life that had left us too soon.

Aaron, meanwhile, stayed focused on his phone. I shifted my position in an attempt to welcome him into the circle and encourage him to join in the conversation, but everyone grieves in different ways. “Whoa — did you know this place has a FourSquare deal?” he said, without turning his attention from the screen. “15% off your bill every 3rd check-in!” I excused myself from the rest of the group, and dragged Aaron away with him. He hardly even noticed, instead allowing himself to be moved with minimal force, until finally, he dug his feet into the ground. “Oh…” he said, letting the word hang and reverberate from his mouth. “She’s the FourSquare Mayor of her own wake. I guess that makes sense, I just…wow. I never thought about that. Do you think it would be rude to steal the mayorship? I mean, if I check in tomorrow at the funeral, I’ll have it, but I don’t want to like, hog the spotlight or —”

Without warning, I snatched the cellphone from his hands, shut it off, and put it in my pocket. “Get it together, and pay your respects,” I told him, and made my way towards the bathroom. The Men’s Room door opened up into the larger hall, so I carefully shut the door behind me, trying my hardest not to disturb the other mourners or even alert them to my presence. For some reason, urinating at a wake always seemed rude to me.

Unfortunately, it seemed that I had forgotten to lock the door, and as every guy knows, it’s nearly impossible to stop once you start letting it go. No sooner had I started then another guest opened the door without a knock — leaving me exposed with penis in hand to the rest of the wake. Under normal circumstances, I think she would have appreciated the embarrassment, or at least gotten a kick out of it, but it was difficult to explain that to her grieving parents.

Shark Grief

Stop and sink,
so just keep swimming;
always keep your fin up.

(Rest in Peace, Mama Cooter)