Friday, January 9, 2009

Condolence Stupidity

"He looks good."

How many times did I have to hear that over the course of Papa Eric's visitation Thursday night?

Luckily, I still contain a modicum of self-control, so the sailor's vocabulary of my inner voice did not give in to outward expression, because, seriously, it was in full-on, make-your-mama-blush mode.
Honestly, "He looks good." ?!?
Give me a freaking break!

No, he doesn't look good.

He looks dead, yes; he looks nothing like the man I remember, yes. but he doesn't look "good." He barely looks human.

I sat near the back of the funeral home with Dana most of the night, because I think my control could have very easily snapped if one more person walked through the line, past that empty shell of flesh and bone and mortuary make-up told me "He looks good" --

How do you tactfully respond to such an inane comment? I bit my tongue and nodded, digging my fingernails into my palms to keep from causing a scene. But inside, I was screaming like a banshee, "If you want me to pull your tongue out and wrap it around your neck, say that one more time. I dare you. "

Okay, so now I sound like a Sopranos episode. I'm a little defensive when it comes to my Papa. Sue me. Or leave a comment below telling me how wrong I am to feel this way, I don't care. This is my blog; deal.

The body in that box is NOT my Papa. Except for my pictures and my memories, Papa is gone. And that unmistakable fact made it easy to walk by that box. I never saw that expression on his face in life; not even when he was in pain and close to death. No, that was not the Eric Gustav Gustafson I knew; not the man born in Ulrika, Sweden in 1915; the little boy who watched from the ship as his grandfather soaked his shirt with tears on the dock as he watched his son's family sail away; the same little Swedish boy who later saw a shipmate buried at sea, the body devoured by sharks, before finally reaching Ellis Island. No, that lifeless form in the box is not the boy who struggled to learn English as a child, the young man who met a girl behind the candy counter at the Capitol Theatre and told his buddy, "That's the girl I'm going to marry." And married her three years later; not the man who raised two daughters and unreservedly loved three grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. The man who sang "Jesus Loves Me" and "Peace in the Valley" and "Yes sir, that's my baby" when he saw his wife of 68 years. That wasn't the almost-94 year-old man with the nearly flawless complexion and beautiful, wavy white hair who said "Tack sa myket" (thank you very much in Swedish) to everyone. No; the shell in that box was not my Papa. Not remotely.

How could anyone walk past the bulletin board of scenes from his full, generous life; see the sparkling, often ornery smile within the snapshots and portraits; view the lovingly, painstakingly hand-crafted wooden items his scarred carpenter's hands had fashioned; then proceed to the frowning shell in the coffin and say, "He looks good." Puh-leeeeze.

Visitations are uncomfortable events. I appreciate that. I know people don't know what to say at a time of loss, but, honestly; "He looks good" ?? that is the dumbest thing ever. and not in the least bit comforting. How about, "Those are great pictures." or "You obviously loved him very much." or "Wow, this really sucks."

That, I could appreciate. Maybe. Later. When the yawning hole in my chest doesn't seem quite so raw; when the swelling has gone down around my eyes, and that scene from my dream the morning he died doesn't make my heart ache quite so much.

I miss him so much.

2 comments: said...

Wow. This really sucks. {{hugs}}

JC Lamont said...

You were obviously very close to your are very lucky to have such wonderful memories. Never take that for granted, even when the pain of losing him is great. And to lose a love one you were close to does suck, very much.

Um, this might not be the most appropriate place to mention this -- but you write really good.