I used to live in what was once a funeral home. There were five to six of us living there at any given time; we had a ton of space. There was a game room with a pool table and foosball, a practice room for those of us who played music, as well as a large room where we built a stage so bands could play at our house. We even built a bar in the shape of a coffin. People would sometimes be disturbed by its former function and could not believe I would live where so many dead bodies had been prepared for display. This really didn’t bother me. It was always fun to take someone on a tour to show them the casket slide into the basement where the embalming room used to be. Living in an old funeral home did not bother me one bit. It is quite different at a funeral home still in operation.
I attended a wake last week. I really had no business being there. Everyone was breaking down in tears and people I didn’t know were hugging me. There was no casket, but there was a memorial wall with pictures contributed by everyone attending the wake. This wall of photos told a wonderful story of a friend, a lover, a brother and a son. Truth is, I did know the person who died, but this was not the person I knew. It is interesting how people can memorialize somebody and forget about all the negatives. There is a reason this guy died of a drug overdose at 35 years old. He caused grief to all his family and friends. His ex-girlfriend cries thinking she was wrong to have left him. She’s really just upset that she had to make the decision to leave since staying with him would have meant possibly sharing his fate. Tough love. There’s just supposed to be some hope that it will actually work. Someone hands me a tissue, but I’m not crying. I watch everyone around me tearing up and I feel nothing. Everyone remembers the positive. The picture of him crashing his friend’s car after nodding off from doing junk and a bottle of vodka is not hanging up on the wall. Instead we see all the fun people had with him in his early 20’s. Maybe that is the ghost who people are mourning, one who died many years before this more recent tragedy. Maybe everyone’s really just memorializing their own past, when there was more fun than responsibility. I do remember the fun times. It’s just that I left it behind long ago and do not like to look back. These people have concocted a fictional version of our friend that does not resemble what he was really like at all. I enjoy seeing everyone again, but that’s really not what a funeral should be about.
A couple days later I’m just getting home from happy hour at the bar when it suddenly hits me. I will never see my friend again. Someone I know is now gone from this world. No matter how old I get, it is still shocking when someone my age passes. That could be me. That could be someone even closer to me. I don’t want this to ever happen again yet I know it will…soon…repeatedly. Forgiveness is golden and death is no time to hold a grudge. How beautiful that so many people came together to relive a collective memory, yet so heartbreaking that someone needs to cease existing to vanquish all the negative things they’ve done. This was a troubled person with problems any of us could have fallen into if we had given in just once. Who am I to kid myself? This was a friend of mine because I could only relate to someone who also could not fit in with all the other normal people out there. Yes, he dragged me into questionable activities I am only lucky to have not faced consequences for. We are mourning the fact that there was not more we could have done to save our friend. We feel guilty that we took part in some of the same transgressions, yet got out before it spiraled out of control. What right do I have to criticize him for continuing down that path to its final end? I miss not caring. I miss doing crazy things without reserve. I miss hanging out with nothing to do, just because friends do that sometimes. I saw him a month earlier and he looked like death, and yet I had no idea it would be the last. I told him I didn’t want to hang out that day.
A funeral home is an interesting place to have as one’s residence. It’s called a funeral “home” because it replaced the old tradition of holding a wake in the actual home of the person who died. I have to wonder if it was really the morbidity of a dead body that resulted in funerals being moved to a place of business. I never felt the presence of any ghosts of the dead while living there. I thought people were silly for suggesting it. How horrible to be sentenced to roam the halls of the place where you and countless others were drained of blood, replenished with formaldehyde, and unrecognizably placed on display. If I were to believe in the supernatural at all, it would be in the accumulated negative energy of years of repeated mourning at each familial gathering, night after night. Forget the souls of the dead. How many people poured their hearts out in vain, longing to see their dead friend, lover, brother or son just once more?