Last night I attended Nancy's wake. I have not been to a wake in over ten years. I think that makes me a very lucky person. The funeral home was in Homer Glen and the drive there was dank and moist with clouded fog that crowded the road we traveled on. When we began our trek there my mom said from the back seat, almost to herself, "this is what it was like outside when my sister died." We could barely see ten feet ahead of us, like we were shrouded from the rest of the world, or like we had driven away from the world, or the world chose to hide itself from us.
There were a lot of people there, a lot of family, a lot of friends; Nancy's family, however, stood on one side of the room whereas her husband's family stood on the other. There was much tension in the room, but thankfully no arguments. There were pictures of Nancy posted to boards, the boards mounted on easels. The photos spanned her entire life. I also looked through her wedding album. It was 1974 when she got married and she looked so young, and she looked very happy. She was married in the same church her daughter was married in only three months ago and where her funeral was held this morning. At the end of the large room, she lay in an open casket.
Before I even knelt before her I started crying. The grief came very suddenly; looking at her laying there, so still and painted over, seemed incredibly unfair to me. She was such a good woman. When I did kneel before her, I couldn't even pray. I'm not a religious person, but wanted to pray something for her. I wanted to say something to the God I believed in for her. But I started choking and I couldn't think of anything but "sleep."
Then I felt a presence and looked to my right. My best friend's mother-in-law stood there, only a few feet from me, waiting her turn. She was too close, like if only she had been a foot further away I wouldn't have felt like my space had been violated. I don't think she knew, but then I felt rushed and got up. I didn't really give Nancy a good look. I couldn't really. Cancer had whittled her body away to nothing; she wore the red wig she bought after all her hair fell out; she wore her glasses; the dress she wore to both her son and daughters weddings. After I got up, my best friend and I looked at the top of Nancy's red-wigged head and talked about how good she looked. That's what I do remember about funerals, especially all the open casket Catholic funerals I went to as a child. They would say, oh, so and so looks good. They did a good job. So and so looks so peaceful, don't they? It's the nice thing to do. And Nancy did look good, for having died in the condition she was in.
Thankfully, though, my friend said, "her mouth is a little stretched and weird."
I said, "Yeah." I looked at her. "But otherwise..."
"Yeah, otherwise, she looks good."
There were cookies and cakes and chips and dip and sodas and water in the other room. I had a flashback from my grandfather's wake; I was twelve and wandered into the lounge where my father's sisters sat smoking and grieving. I remember hovering at the doorway for a moment, wandering what my place was in the whole situation. I didn't want to intrude on a grief I didn't yet fully understand, let alone feel. I remember being bored, but feeling guilty about the boredom.
After about two hours, we got back in the car and went home. I thought of my friend, and was amazed by how well she was holding up. I knew Nancy for all these years because I am her daughter's best friend, and I could barely keep myself together. Or maybe, it's just that she only lets go when she is by herself.