Beautiful. Why did it have to be beautiful? I was in a room, with a high ceiling and hand painted walls, antique furniture, richly colored colored carpets. Light filtered through stained-glass windows and a large sweeping staircase led to a second floor. There she lay. She was in a coffin, clad in a beautiful green dress. I felt icy-cold, slightly dizzy, empty. And nauseous. Nobody seemed to notice my discomfort. Ten other people were there, chatting away happily, oblivious to the corpse on display. I couldn't stop looking at her. She looked perfect. Unblemished, youthful even. Thin, slightly waxy. At peace. Each strand of hair was in place; her glasses were perched on the bridge of her nose. Why was she wearing her glasses? She didn't need them anymore.
Oh my God! How could I think something like that? What kind of person am I? I walk quickly to a chair on the other side of the room and sit down. I try to blink back tears and look intently at the wall, then my shoes, trying to hide my face from view. My aunt comes over and sits next to me. "Feel a little awkward, Elizabeth?" She asks. I nod and murmur my agreement, trying not to open my mouth too much for fear of throwing up. She asks me about college, and my dog and my brother. I whisper my responses, forcing a smile every now and then. My other aunt comes over and strokes my hair. "You are such a beauty," she croons. "Your hair is so beautiful and so dark."
Does nobody realize that this woman is dead? "Thank you," I whisper. My father comes over and takes the attention away from me. Thankfully. I try not to throw up, try not to look at anyone. More of my family members arrive; I stand to hug them and then use the opportunity to leave the building, ignoring the curious glances of the receptionists. I seat myself out front on the ice-coated steps. I allow myself a few tears. I barely even knew this woman, I hadn't seen her in at least 9 years, and yet her nephews and grandchildren and cousins were all inside not shedding a tear between the lot of them.
An elderly woman arrives, and pausing on the steps to the building replies, "It's not fun being here, is it?" I want to throttle her and yell that nobody would expect it to be fun, people die there, but instead I nod and smile as best I can. She asks if I know her and who I am 'there for'. She is there for some woman named Merriman. I seem to bore her so she goes inside. Ten minutes later my mother opens the door and sticks her head out. "Come inside."
"Why?" I ask.
"Sign the guest book and say goodbye to everyone."
Yes! We're leaving. I rush in and sign the guest book, only to hear more people talking about me. "Happy birthday!" My aunts say. "Do you have a car yet?" People ask. "Do you have your license?" More rounds of questions and birthday wishes.
How can anyone possibly feel right telling me happy birthday when their mother or aunt or grandmother or sister or cousin won't have any more birthdays? Ever! I escape the questioning as soon as possible. Until today I had never seen a dead person- at least not in real everyday life where I could reach out and touch them. I sit in the lounge. It looks more like a hotel or museum than a funeral home. Why is it called a home? Nobody lives there. I almost giggle at that thought, but a wave of nausea causes me to clutch my stomach.
Finally we leave, and I look back feeling dead inside, clutching my mother's arm fearfully. I never want to see her in a casket, looking waxy and beautiful, wondering how cold she is and whether or not we should leave her reading glasses with her.