A Story for Diane | Dear Diane,
I’ve been thinking about you all day. Missing you and grateful you’re at rest. Following your death in 2006, David and I flew to Houston, rented a car, and came to the funeral home for your viewing, the evening before your funeral service.
Visitors and family members stood and sat around the chapel, talking with each other. Sharing memories, laughing, some crying. Others were up front viewing your body. I’ve never liked viewings.
I don’t think you would remember this event from our childhood. You were probably too young. It made a huge impression on me. It also made me leery about viewing dead bodies lying in caskets.
When we were attending our primary church day-school in Savannah, the relatively new pastor of the church died suddenly. He was young, and had young children. His wife was our Bible teacher at the school. We were shocked when he died.
The principal of the school, Miss Riley, decided that all the school children (primary grades) should attend the viewing. Someone sent notes home so parents could approve or disapprove for their children. Our parents approved.
When the day came, a time was set aside in the morning for the primary school viewing. The body was in an open casket in the front of the church, just in front of the pulpit and platform. Our teachers lined us up in single file and told us we weren’t to talk at all as we walked through and passed by the casket.
The sanctuary was empty—not yet open for public viewing. There was no service, no music, nothing. Except the sound of our feet shuffling across the marble floor, pausing, and then walking on out the other side to return to our classrooms.
The 1st graders went first followed by the others, all in order. Some boys had on Sunday clothes. So did many of the girls. We were quiet and somber. I wasn’t sure how to hold my face. Should I smile? Look sad? I decided to look sad, because that’s how I felt. That and nervous.
I’d never seen a dead body before. I was in one of the higher grades (4th or 5th), so it was a while before I finally got to the casket. We came around a corner and there it was. A dead body. My heart pounded as I came closer.
I didn’t want to look at it, but I told myself to take a deep breath and just get it over with. The moment I looked, I thought I heard a voice. I was terrified, and decided not to linger. The dead pastor had recently come to talk to us in a school chapel, but now he didn’t look anything like himself.
Once we got outside the sanctuary, there was plenty of chatter about what we’d seen. Some of the boys were making jokes about hearing ghosts talking to each other. My fertile imagination was on overload. I just wanted to get out of there without looking like a scaredy cat.
I’ve never felt comfortable viewing dead bodies. Now, in Houston, your body was right up in front, in a casket, waiting for me to pass by. I waited until there was a lull, and went up by myself. There you were, laid out in the dress you had chosen for this occasion. It was lovely. Pink becomes you.
To my surprise your body was beautiful. I knew it wasn’t ‘you.’ Yet it was indeed you, minus ALS. Peaceful and relaxed.
I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to stop looking at your face, or touching your hands. It wasn’t eerie. It was the most wonderful goodbye you could have given me. A vision of your ‘sleeping’ body now free of ALS.
Some people scorn open-casket viewings. They say the deceased isn’t really there. I’ve probably said things like that, too. Mainly because I didn’t want to look.
But there you were—at rest. No sign of ALS discomfort, bodily quirks, pain, anxiety, frustration, distress, anger, hunger, grief or any of it. Just lying there, in peace.
This is still my favorite goodbye from you–along with all the tears in the other goodbyes. Happy early Valentine’s Day! ♥
Love and hugs,
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 February 2015