How to Grieve Believably
The doctor said his heart was defective. I didn’t know hearts could defect. Wikipedia said it was a death wish. The doctor called it a genetic recurrence. Someone sent a fruit dish. I chose the least ripe looking peach, some kind of exercise in self-denial.
My father – strong-willed, hard-bodied – excused himself to the men’s room. There were teeth marks on his arm where he bit down to hide the noise.
The nurse said, ‘Preparations.’
He was led into an unlit room. A voice over the loud speaker said, ‘Lunch will be served late. Spam and devilled eggs on bread.’
Camera flashes went off like gunfire. I asked the nurse what was going on. ‘We’re freezing his expression,’ she said, ‘so you can remember what his disappointment looks like.’ I asked her if that was really necessary.
She said, ‘Necessary? Nothing in life is necessary.’
He had the gift of the gab, my dad. ‘Make them laugh,’ he said, ‘then make them cry.’ Advice to live or die by. After he died, I spent most of my time crying.
The funeral was at a football stadium. Hired mourners handed out gift bags full of knick-knacks to forget him by. Key chains and commemorative tattoos that washed off in the shower. I turned up in a Rolls Royce, trained my eyes behind the watching mob: chin lifted, looking wistfully into the middle distance.
Onlookers decided on a single sound bite. They said, ‘There’s nothing you could’ve done.’ I was confused. What did they think I wanted to do?
You can see the eulogy on YouTube. I stand, shakily, like I’m under the weight of some great pain. The truth is I couldn’t feel my legs. I ate three codeine with breakfast – fake eggs and bacon pancakes: his daily staple.
First I made up a tale about the hot nurse, how she’d undressed him on his first night in. He said, ‘I could get used to this!’ Everyone was in stitches.
The rest was plaigarised from The Sopranos. I said, ‘This isn’t painful. Getting shot is painful. Getting stabbed in the ribs is painful. This isn’t painful. It’s empty. Dead.’ The crowd clapped in teary-eyed agreement.
There was a motorcade to the wake, a nightclub called Incendiary. People needed to see me keeping it together. Luckily, I do a fantastic rendition of a well-adjusted man. Dad always talked about timing. The trick is to keep your lips poised between a grimace and a grin, ready to hang a sentence off the slimmest thread.
I got progressively more shit-faced while staying deceptively statesmanlike, patting shoulders and saying, ‘It is what it is,’ until my face went red and the sentiments bled together. The general consensus was that I was holding up well.
I got a guy thrown out so I could grope his wife – my dad’s old secretary – in a booth beside the dance floor. Her name was Sue. She had the quick smile of someone highly strung. We got a cab. She said, ‘I feel sick. Your dad …’ I told her it’s what he would’ve wanted, the first thing that was halfway true.
She stopped midway through. ‘Is something wrong?’
I grinned at her like a Cheshire cat on ecstasy. ‘No. Why’s that?’
She put the tip of her finger on the corner of my lips. ‘It’s like you’re grimacing or something.’