People were waiting for me at the funeral home in Flint. Viewing and visitation had been ongoing for most of the afternoon by the time my car rolled onto the parking lot.
My stepmother, Laurie, saw me first, hugged me then sent me inside to see my Dad, who was standing next to the room where my grandmother’s body laid in a box.
“I’m glad you made it,” he told me.
For a couple of minutes we talked about my drive and the little controversy that had arisen about my grandmother’s obituary.
Details about her life, children and grandchildren had been submitted to the funeral home by my uncle. My father, a retired, high school English teacher, had been asked to look over the finished copy.
He couldn’t have pissed them off more if he’d made the changes with a red pen.
We talked for a minute then he led me up to the small, wooden casket.
The dead cannot help but be a poor imitation for the living. My grandmother’s dressed, painted, and boxed corpse was only a vague outline of the woman I remembered. Her flesh sagged on her frame. She looked like the woman I knew, but carved out of wax and melted slightly under the lights.
“I don’t think it looks like Mom,” my father said. “I think they did their best, but that’s not her.”
He meant that both aesthetically and spiritually; and I agreed. It wasn’t her.
We spent a few minutes there and I felt numb from grief and guilt.
“She always appreciated those letters you sent her,” Dad told me. “I told you that, but she used to light up whenever she’d get flowers or a card or a phone call from one of you kids.
“She was proud of you.”
I heard what he said, but it sort of went through me.
The viewing was to be broken into two parts. The early part of the afternoon was meant just for family. The evening was open to the public, though none of us expected a crowd. My grandmother was almost 90. She’d outlived most of her friends. Few of those people from her past wouldn't be able to travel.
Still, a lot of family turned up: long-lost cousins. Of course, none of them had been long-lost. That was me. They'd stayed and been part of the ongoing family story, while I'd been absent; the one spoken about, but seldom spoken to.I don't know that they'd even expected me to come.