In the funeral home we meet, crack jokes, exchange
greetings and pleasantries, renew friendships,
shake hands, avoid eye contact. Family members
greet us, recall our names, mention us in the same
breath as the dearly departed. Musical chairs:
we shuffle from hand to hand. Discomfort is both
mental and muscular. We tighten our faces
into skeletal smiles, peeling lips from teeth.
We search for washrooms, step inside, recover
breath and balance. Outside, empty chairs await.
We shun reserved seats, drift to the back of the room,
close to the exit. A polished pianist plays
Beethoven, some Bach, music that softens the soul
for the family’s sucker punch of intimate loss.
A sister stands up and speaks: growing up together,
so close. Sibling comforts extract a tear. All sigh.
She breaks down. Packets of Kleenex, strategically
placed, spring into action. Someone sobs. Like the common
cold, it affects us all. Service over, we pay tribute with known
family members. One after another, we offer our last
respects, and leave. Someone says “Follow us home.
We’ll celebrate.” Another discovers a flat tire
and calls the CAA. A man phones a Chinese take-out.
I hobble to the door, locate my car, and drive
the long way home, sitting in the car, all by myself.