Thursday, September 30, 2004

Emily Post would not be pleased...

...A little slow on the uptake, guys?

Many of you have been asking what I'm buying Lila for Christmas. TL (who is making a run at being Steve's #1 fan, BTW) even wondered aloud if I am buying Lila a ring. (Gulp!)

Let me dispel that rumor right now: I am NOT marrying an 18-year-old. Or a 19-year-old, or a 20-year-old. At 21, I would discuss it.

All I was saying is that Lila gave mom her dress, so now I am going to buy Lila another dress for Christmas. Taking it back after the burial would be downright macabre...


Thursday, September 23.

I've been to exactly one wake in my life, when I was 9 years old.

Dad was taking me to a t-ball game, and he explained to me that a friend of his had died, and we had to go to a "wake" first. I asked him what that was, and he told me it was something held after someone passed away, so that you could pay your respects to the family. That's basically all he said.

So he takes me into the funeral home, in my green t-ball shirt and cleats, and as he signs his name to the guest book, I peek through the doorway and into the room, with its rows of folding chairs. And a dead guy in a box.

I walk up to the body. His hands are folded over his abdomen, with a set of rosary beads intertwined in them. I've never seen anyone so perfectly still in my life. It's like he isn't real, like he's a mannequin or a wax dummy. His skin looks like plastic, yellow and artificial.

His body looks tight in the coffin, as if it were too small for him. My pulse races as I think about how claustrophobic it would be in there once they closed the lid. What if he's not really dead? I think. What if he wakes up after they bury him?

I don't know enough to ask dad, and he doesn't think to discuss it with me. He doesn't say anything about it, not even one word.


6:00. We are standing at the open doorway to mom's viewing room. I see the folding chairs, the box at the front of the room. Everything is just as I remember it from the other funeral home when I was nine.

Greg's wife, Nancy, is holding their five-month old daughter, Mackenzie, bouncing her gently and cooing at her. For a minute I think it is completely inappropriate that a baby is here; but then again, what is the harm, really? It's not like she is going to remember.

Nancy looks up, and I nod at her. It's time.

We slowly approach the coffin. Soft weeps hang in the air.

It may sound strange to say, but mom looks beautiful. Her hair is clean and up in a bun; her makeup is perfect; and her dress, Lila's dress, is gorgeous, colorful and flatteringly cut. I had forgotten how attractive the dress was.

After seeing mom, I feel a little better. She looks like she is at peace.

There are big, colorful sprays of flowers all around the coffin. One has a ribbon on the front that says, "Grandma," and the card reads, "Love always, Mackenzie".

We kneel in front of the coffin, two by two, and pay our respects. She does look good, but she's also got that wax-dummy appearance that I remember. It's painful to see: My mother was a lot of things, but fake was not one of them.

I touch mom's hand. It feels strange, artificial, almost rubbery. The scab is gone now. She isn't my mother anymore; she's someone I don't even know. I'm just two feet in front of her, but she's never been farther away. And she's going to get farther.

We take our seats in the first row. Guests start to arrive. We keep hearing how wonderful mom looks, and how she had a hard life, and how she is in a "better place" now. Everyone is very interested in who Lila is, too. I hear "Who's THIS pretty lady?", or some variation thereof, ten times or more.

Calling hours will be over at 8:30, and I can't wait. It really is unnerving being 25 feet away from your dead mother for 2 1/2 hours straight.

A lot of people from work come to the wake: Dom, the other VP's, most of the department managers, even a lot of our regular staff. I'd say 20 or 30 people from my office were here.

Lila was smart. She made sure to stay far away from me when work people were around.

8:00. The room is filled with 30 or 40 softly-chatting people. I think we've seen the last of the office crowd. I sit down next to Lila; she curls her hand around my forearm and rubs it absently, then lets go. It's something she's done a million times; I bet she didn't even think about it. I happen to look up.

Dan Johnson and Ross are standing there.

I stand up quickly. They each hug me. "Steve, I didn't know her, but if she raised you, she must have been a great woman," Dan says.

"Thanks, Dan."

We chat for a few minutes. Lila surreptitiously gets up and slinks away, but the damage may already be done. Did Ross see the hand-rub? Is he wondering why Lila is here so late? Is he putting together a million tiny hints that he should have picked up on much earlier? What is Dan thinking?

Turns out Dan and Ross made a special trip out here just for the service, but they can't attend the funeral tomorrow. "Guys, you didn't have to do that," I say.

"Nonsense. You are a member of the family," Dan says. "And we want to let you know how much we care about you."


I walk them to their car. Dan hugs me. "If you need anything at all, you call me," he says, and he climbs into the passenger side and closes the door.

Ross is waiting for me at the driver's side. I walk to him and shake his hand; he doesn't let go. He squints at me, staring deeply, as if trying to figure out what color my eyes are.

"You're fucking her, aren't you," he says, smiling.