Death, when I was growing up, was dealt with in a different manner than it is today. When a relative or friend of the family passed away, everyone that so much as gave the deceased a passing glance during their living years would go to that person’s nearest relative’s house to pay respect.
Upon entering the house, everyone in the group would be holding a homemade dish of some sort, and hug the necks of everyone else in the room. Someone, usually an older person, would take photographs of the gathering. Later, at the viewing someone would take pictures of family standing next to the coffin. I don’t know what they did with those photographs because you never saw them in any of the photo albums.
There were even occasions when a funeral home delivered the coffin and body to a home. Relatives and other mourners could have the viewing at the house. I have a photograph of myself standing at the head of my Grandmother’s coffin in the living room of my Uncle. This was set up just feet from the area that had a hospital bed where I, as a teenager, spoon-fed, doctored and took care of her in her ailing years.
This grandmother (and grandfather) was diabetic and took lots of medicines. We grandchildren that spent summers with them were tasked with giving Insulin shots twice a day. Several pills to be taken throughout the day were sorted and stacked in tiny paper cups with the times written in the bottom of each cup. This was before the digital age and no smartphone apps to remind you to do things.
Nowadays there are drive-thru funeral homes. You drive through to a window display of the deceased, as if you were making a bank deposit. I consider it disrespectful, but as long as there is respect given it shouldn’t matter how it is received. I have not seen one myself but saw photos and stories online.
The wakes I’ve been to over the last couple of decades seem to be more of a family reunion. It is the only occasion people find the time to get together and reminisce. The food brought to wakes has changed since I was a child. Now, it consists of meat trays from Wal-Mart, KFC boxes and boxed cakes from a grocery deli. Gone are the days of homemade cakes, beans and cornbread, puddings and other great foods. When you go to a wake and see a homemade food item you eagerly snatch it up. Then moments after you eat it you feel sadness because you truly realize the person that made it is a dying breed themselves.
I am at a time in my life where I have to face the fact that I am getting older. That isn’t the part that hurts me so bad. The heart-wrenching part of getting older is the undeniable truth that the people you admired and those that helped raise you, are indeed themselves, much older than you. Their minds and bodies are putting up a heel of a fight. Just like all my Grandparents, several Aunts, Uncles and Cousins that have lost their fight there will always be a time to say good-bye to someone you don’t want to.
I have seen the hurt and sadness in faces of too many people I love. I have seen that moment in a loved ones face when they realize they will soon be all alone and without the one person they have shared a life with for 40-60 years. I have seen cousins I grew up with lose their parents. I am seeing another set of cousins faced with the reality that they may very soon lose a father. How to you comfort anyone dealing with that knowledge?