We were talking about the New York Giants, this stranger and I, at my wife’s mother’s wake. Or “viewing,” as they called it at this proper WASPy funeral home. He’d come to pay his respects to the family and felt he had to talk to me, though he had nothing to say. I had nothing to say to him, so we talked about football.
We were almost done and I just wanted to leave and get dinner with the family. I looked through the wide door into the parlor, now almost empty. Our four children knelt in front of their grandma’s casket. And for once they weren’t arguing or teasing or playing. They weren’t shoving or pushing, though they packed themselves onto a kneeler meant for two people. They just looked at grandma.
Just Saying Goodbye
They had finished their prayers by then. Now they were just saying goodbye, because once we left the building they’d literally never see their maternal grandmother again. They’d already lost their other grandparents, and they knew the drill. They got up, crossing themselves a little sloppily for my tastes, and . . . laughed.
What they said to each other, I don’t know. For a moment I felt defensive, scandalized that my children would laugh five feet from the dead body of their last living grandparent. I could imagine her disapproving look were she alive. I wanted to lecture them, but they were thirty feet away and I was locked into this awkward conversation with a stranger about the Giants, hoping he didn’t notice my laughing children.
Then I thought: they’re happy even though they’re sad. They’d known she was old and that she would die. They were experienced in the loss of grandparents. Our children had been able to say goodbye, and commend their grandmother to God, and do it together, kneeling at that coffin. Now they could laugh.
The picture is of the Deerpark Presbyterian Church in Port Jervis, New York, where the funeral was held.