I think about death more than any person should. I blame it on the funeral home near my house. When I sit at the corner waiting for the light to turn, I watch the people come in and out. Dressed in black. Walking arm in arm. I wonder who they lost and if they had a chance to say a proper goodbye.
A handful of times, I've seen the incinerator in use. The smoke coming out of the chimney is unlike any smoke I've ever seen. If it were a mascara hue, it would be called Blackest Black. Seeing this puts things in perspective, except in the dead of winter, when the idea of my body being confined to a toasty thousand degrees seems more appealing than sitting on frozen leather seats.
The last time I was inside a funeral home was when my grandmother passed away. She wasn’t much older than my father is today. Their relationship had always been difficult. She was barren and adopted my father at birth. The only stories I’ve heard about my dad’s childhood were riddled with trauma. Perhaps God was sending her a clear sign she was unfit to be a mother.
For my grandparents, drunken disagreements turned into no-holds-barred fistfights. Most nights, my father cried himself to sleep. Sometimes, in the backseat of the old Chevy while his parents knocked back a few rum and cokes, at a bar outside of town on HWY 11.
My dad and I visited her on her deathbed. I sensed resentment in the air. Her steel blue eyes were glossy from the morphine. We made it just in time. All my father could say was, “I can’t believe she didn’t leave me anything.” I suppose he felt some kind of payout might have made up for all the pain.
Her body rested in an open casket. When attendees offered their condolences, I wanted to say “It’s okay, I barely knew her.” She looked even more like a stranger now. Her skin was pale with too much rouge on her cheeks and her eyebrows and lips were visibly painted on, like the face of a life-size collectable doll. The wrinkles on her face reached for the layer of pillowy satin she laid on. Giving her an almost youthful glow. Her long-time boyfriend, Mark, stood beside her and said, “She's never looked better. She should’ve done this years ago," every time someone went by.
As my grandmother made her final exit towards the cemetery, the song Non, Je ne regrette rien, by Edith Piaf, played, as per her request. When the familiar chorus echoed, my dad mumbled something under his breath. Even in death, she taunted him. I suspect she still does.