The Scandalous Choice
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Below.
The girls and I made a choice that some people don’t understand. To some, it seems a bit scandalous. Even to myself, it seems strange. A very different choice than ever before.
I had already made my decision when the girls climbed into the car and we headed toward Georgia for my dad’s funeral. So had the girls. We almost spoke of it at once.
I chose not to see Daddy in his casket.
One of my earliest memories is being three years old and held up high to see the pretty lady in the casket, Lucinda Harrell Johnson, my great-grandmother. It was the first of many such memories.
Growing up in a small town meant we attended almost every funeral, including the visits to the family’s home, to the visitation at the funeral home, and finally to the funeral itself. I’d been to at least 500 funerals by the time I hit puberty. And people wonder why I have a Goth bent!
It’s funny how some people feel the need to entertain themselves by watching the closest mourners. It’s ghoulish. Thank Gods, it’s not the norm, but there are a few people who really seem to get off on it.
When Granddaddy died over a decade ago, three women stationed themselves at the foot of his casket for the best view of the mourner’s face as each approached the casket at the visitation service. They stopped their gossip to gawk. Especially when it came to close family members. They refused to allow the private moment. They made themselves part of it.
People like that feed on other people’s grief. They crave it, and if they don’t get it in the form they want, then there’s the gossip of whether a beloved acted as devastated as necessary.
This time, it wasn’t about refusing to give them satisfaction. It wasn’t about them. It was about how I (and the girls, in their own wishes) wanted to remember Daddy. And it wasn’t in a box.
When my friend Joe, years ago, told me he had colon cancer and only two months to live, I didn’t visit him. I talked to him on the phone instead. He understood. I didn’t want to see what the cancer did to him, and at his funeral, the casket was closed, though I didn’t know it before and I would have been willing. My memories of him are vivid and living—sitting behind his desk with bright blue eyes and a smile. I like very much that I have that memory instead of the one our mutual friends talk about.
I did get some pressure about what I “needed to do.” Well-meaning and gentle as well. Concerned that I might regret my decision, but for me, once the image is introduced, it’s too late to decide that that’s not what I wanted. So I gave it a lot of thought, I knew what I wanted, what was right for me, and I said, no, I choose not to.
I don’t need to see a physical body to have closure.
I don’t need to see him that way or remember him that way. I may not have that choice with every funeral in my future, but this one, I did, and this is what I wanted.
And what I honored in myself. And in him.
And if that’s a scandalous choice, then shame on whoever thinks so for feeling robbed of their moment of entertainment.