The Look into the Coffin (not a feel-good story)
For me, death is the hardest chapter to bear in the story of a life.
Recently, my brother asked me to share some good memories about my grandmother, who passed on the fourth of July after a long struggle with cancer that clouded the end of a life of caring and connectedness. I told him I wasn’t ready yet. And I’m not; I still feel too raw to skip back to the joyful parts.
I know that time will come, a time when I can celebrate and remember without the bitter bite of loss. It’s happened with each important death in my life, and I anticipated it as I sat in the funeral. I kept my eyes open and looking up, up. Partly because I was trying to cry less and some liar told me this might help. Partly because upward is, for me, the direction of gratitude.
Even if I don’t feel grateful, I can still put myself in position for it. I can remind myself that I will, eventually, appreciateher peaceful death, a death with my grandfather and father at hand. She opened her one good eye to the world, blinked, and turned her head toward the man she lived with and loved for more than sixty years.
There were no more breaths.
I wish I had let that be my last image of my grandmother. There was so much to hold onto: her awareness of the moment of passing, her connection to two men she loved, her release to the heaven everyone in the room anticipated for her.
Instead, at the funeral, I looked into the coffin.
I’m always sorry. I always tell myself, “This time around, I’m really, really not going to look.” And I always, always look.
I don’t know what we expect from the open coffin. What closure can denying decay for the duration of a funeral service really give us? Maybe it is part of what some people need. For me, it’s an obstacle to closure. That frozen, flattened look–the features pressed into place by someone who never saw the person in life–it lodges in me, a dark seed that tells a story that competes with the one I want to tell for my loved one, the one that will let me remember the real life.
The look into the coffin begins a story of deception, of denial, of delay. A lie: I’m just sleeping here for a while. The truth of death is less eloquent: gone, gone, gone. A stuttering that finally resolves into silence.
For far more eloquent thoughts on death than mine, click here.