"Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death, a note without saying. "
- Langston Hughes
It's a strange place, funeral homes. Always resting with a lugubrious air next to the churches. Maybe it has to do with being so close to death. Entering there and find yourself surrounded by crematories and coffins. All the people working there dressed in black suits, with their pale faces, dead and inhuman look. The simple smell to a corpse with a slight touch of despair and crying. The lights hung benevolently over them, giving everything a cold and distant look. Plain and simple, it is a place where the common citizen would not like to be. In all my years, I've been only one’s to that dreaded place and remembering the scattered fragments of that day, I can only feel a bad taste in my mouth.
The first time was at the young age of 16, when my grandmother passed away after a long and long- suffering battle with cancer. I remember it was a Saturday when they called us from the hospital. It was a warm, sunny afternoon at the end of September, a typical autumn afternoon. It was a pretty quiet day, a day full of calm. Like any other weekend, I was playing video games just locked in my room, worrying only about the little universe in which I lived. My parents were in their studio working without stopping, trying to finish everything to finally be able to rest. It was simply one of those days in which one would not even think about their worst nightmares that something bad would happen. It was almost five in the afternoon when the phone rang. I remember that the beginning nobody answered it. It just sounded for almost half a minute, its echo filling the apartment until, in a hurry my father grabbed the phone and answered without further ado. At first I did not know what the call might be, concentrating completely on whatever I was doing. The call must have lasted about five minutes until he finally hung up the phone. On the verge of whispering, with a tone of weakness in his voice that was completely alien to him, stammering and with a clear knot in his throat he called me and my mother to come and see him. With a dose of childish anger for having interrupted me, I went to his huge studio where he used to spend countless hours working, letting his life pass from one side. That study was actually more of a dark and depressing room, filled with medical journals and books everywhere, with the curtains down and music classic sounding loudly by the speakers of his computer. But since I set foot in that room I knew something was wrong. The windows were open, leaving a slight ray of light entering between the ocean of sadness and darkness that was hanging around. The music is muted and my father was there, standing in the middle of the room. His eyes were red and with tearsslowly forming at the corners of his eyelids. His face was flushed and he looked all contracted in a strange grimace of anger. We both arrived at the same time and he, without even waiting to see if we werepaying attention, he said:
-grandmother died. They just called me from the hospital. They have already contacted the rest of the family. They need to know what we're going to do with her now that she's gone ...
Those first words have been with me ever since. To be honest, I had never before had to confront the death of someone so close to me. The only time death had visited me before was the time when my little dog was run over by the park when he was about eight years old. Since then I had not had to see her face to face again until that unhappy afternoon. After telling us this, my father passed his hand over his eyes trying to get rid of the tears that had invaded him. My mother, in typical performance of hers, approached him and tried to comfort him. Instead, I just stood there, petrified in the middle of the room. Thousands of questions were passing through my mind without any valid answer. I really did not know whether to cry or scream or run out into my parents' arms. I just stood there, without saying a word, trying unsuccessfully to process what had happened.
In the end, with the help of my uncles , they arranged a funeral at the funeral home that was right next to the church to which we always went when I was little. We used to go there with her. She sat between me and my father and I was always saying that the greatest gift we could have from this life was to know that when everything was over, we would go to heaven and we would be happy for the rest of eternity . When I remembered that, sitting while watching as they brought the heavy oak coffin to the table full of roses and letters that had been prepared exclusively for her, I could not stop repeating that at least I would not have to suffer anymore. That she would no longer have to wear the wig to hide from her friends in the crochet club she used to have on Wednesday afternoons, the baldness that chemotherapy had caused her. That he would not have to continue going to the hospital every week for her treatment. That she would finally be happy. In a way, believing in, however false it was, that made me simpler with the whole process of mourning.
I do not know why, but they decided it was a better idea during the funeral to do it with the coffin open. It seems to me of the most disturbing things that can be done; to make people have to see the corpse after suffering so much with the mere loss of the life of someone they love. I will never erase from my mind when my parents grabbed me by my thin hand, they made me go to see the grandmother for the last time. I am not a very fearful person (and I do not say it for just sounding rough or brave) but when they made me go there I could for the first time in my life feel a real attack of dread. I could feel tears running down my face to my elegant shirt they had bought for that occasion. I kept repeating to my parents over and over again that they should let me go, that I did not want to have to go through such torture as that was. Although after a slap from my mother and a severe scolding from my father for having 'done such a spectacle' in front of all those people, I slowly walked with a feeble step until I was face to face with the body.
I just saw the face of grandmother in her favorite dress and looking just like before the arrival of cancer I could feel like I almost threw up on the flower arrangement. I felt devastated, both physicallyand mentally. I felt like I was confronted in such a way with something that affects us all as death was like being stabbed through the heart. We were not more than two minutes in silent contemplation ,while my parents prayed silently, but it felt like an eternity. I felt as if time did not pass, as if i was unstuck in time. That bag of flesh and bones that had once been a person i loved. I was confronted with the truth that she had shown me in the cold and dirty floor. It was easy to read the message in his cold, rotting flesh. A human being was matter, plain and simple. That was her great secret. Without the soul, the body is simply garbage and there is nothing else to do after death. After that there is nothing, only a huge void from which there is no escape.
After having to go through all that, I sat in one of those depressing banks that had the premises. Another half hour passed until finally one of the employees lowered the lid, sealing the body inside forever. A large number of people were passing in the direction of the coffin to give their last farewell. For several of them apparently staying surrounded by the memory of death was too much for them. Some people they would sob while they were in front of the body, others would scream, others would leave the funeral home without saying a reason, to smoke a cigarette, to drink one of the many beers they had brought or simply walk aimlessly and even a lady almost the same age as grandmother climbed on top of the coffin and began to scream while pressing with her hands strongly the wooden outside. They had to take that old woman to one of the many panic rooms they had prepared for that kind of case. A narrow room with only one bed in which they left those people to suffer everything they needed. It is quite common for incidents like those in such events to occur. I can not tell if it's really just for making a scandal of the funeral or if in truth it is the purest expression I have ever seen of human pain.
After that hour of tragedy, weeping and suffering, they took the corpse to the church that rested next to the establishment. With a lugubrious air, but respect, all those that had persisted until that moment were in line accompanying the body. The priest was already there, ready to start the mass. That hour full of sobs, sermons on salvation and prayers that took the mass were surprisingly fast and after the final proclamation , it did not take long to keep the drawer in the long trunk of the long cars supplied by the funeral home to make that last trip. Some managed to enter the few and narrow places that were in the front of the funeral cars, others took their vehicles from the parking lot and went directly to the cemetery while a few went walking while the rest unfortunately had to wait for some taxi that could take them.
I went in my parents' car - trying to get comfortable with the other half dozen people who were locked in the passenger seats with me. We had to cross the city until we finally reached the huge and imposing green fields full of solemn white crosses, each one announcing a person whose time had ended. Cars lined up toward the gravel parking lot that had been abandoned next to the waiting and reception area. We were one of the last to enter that macabre place. When we got out of the car, we saw ourselves in front of about fifty people, all trying at the same time to rest in one of the free spaces that the waiting room had, while all the expensive arrangements were finished. It was even more depressing room that panic room of the funeral home, filled with elegant sofas with an air of arrogance, with a table full of snacks of all kinds in the midst of all the confusion. We spent almost half an hour cramped in that small room before in the middle of what seemed more a public festival, full of flowers and gifts, we walked with our heads down to the hollow in the ground where they were going to rest grandmother. If before, with all the outlandish things they had done up to that point and seemedvery much a celebration as a birthday or anniversary, now it looked like a party.
You could not lie that for sure most people among that crowd was pretty tired and uncomfortable for all they had to wander on that day and somehow there was a ire of morbid joy of finally knowing it was about to end. We walked for about ten minutes, all in an uncomfortable silence until we finally reached our final destination. We had to wait a long time as they slowly and cautiously lowered the coffin to its final destination and while the priest gave the last blessings. Then, as if it weren’t much, several of the people who had been close to the grandmother during those 87 years that had lasted her life walked to the podium. The first to go was my uncle, to whom I can say if my memory does not fail me, I had not seen for almost eight years. With his huge and dusty suit, which made him look fatter and balder than he already was, he began to give a trite and sweet speech about how much we would miss her and so on. After almost crying like a little child in front of everyone, my father went up and took the microphone. I have to say that the phrases he said were some of the things that struck me the most in that day. Not so much for what they really said, but because I knew better than anyone that they were not true. They were pure generic lies , developed only to cause grief and compassion . It was completely false. They lacked soul, they were only dead words without any real feeling. Well, I suppose they can do it since there is no one who can show the falsity of their words. It always happens when people die, they say that they respected her a lot and that they missed them,even if it's clearly lies.
After the pathetic speeches we finished, we could go. Without thinking twice we got into the car and went directly to our apartment. None of us three wanted to talk during the trip home. I guess it would be because of the recent impact of the events. There are never too many words when talking about death. I did not get too many words to mind at that time and not many come to mind now. The last thing I remember with total certainty was that when we were parking the car in the communal parking lot, without really knowing what else to say, I told my father
- Yes, son? - He replied weakly
-I do not want to go back to that place anymore ...