How many times have I used the expression "the final nail in the coffin"? And how many times have I not thought about what that literally means?
My Mother-in-law's funeral service was last week. The service was okay. The first part which was a summary of her life and generosity and kindness was very nice. That part was accompanied by some of her favorite hymns and prayers. And the last part when people spoke about their personal remembrances was lovely. But the middle part of the service was basically a sales pitch for Jesus. Just remember, only those that believe that Jesus Christ is their personal savior will have eternal life, because everyone else is going down the shitter. It's a good thing that eternal life sounds like hell to me. My mother-in-law was a traditional Christian, but she never thought that what she believed had to be believed by everyone. There are a lot of bible thumpers in the family, and the minister wouldn't let us get out of that church without his opportunity to proselytize. Whatever, it's what happens at funerals, I guess. You can't please everyone.
The day before the funeral my Father-in-law decided that he wanted a "viewing." Yet another mortuary euphemism for "this is your very last chance to see the person you love." I have never seen a dead person. I've seen a couple of dead pets, and while that sounds pretty minor, I guarantee you finding my beloved black cat "Slick" after she had been hit by a car was plenty traumatic. But I didn't really know what to expect when we all went to the funeral home at the end of the day.
A neighbor and friend who is an expert finish carpenter had built my Mother-in-law a beautiful "pine box." Everything was perfectly proportioned. She was a tiny woman, made even tinier by her illness. There were three meticulously shaped handles on each side. It was unpretentious and (strangely) homey, just like she was. I expected her to look waxy and ill, but in fact she looked much better than the last time I had seen her, a few days before her death. She did look dead, but only just. She was covered by a homemade quilt, with her hands crossed in front. It seemed a slightly awkward pose, though undoubtedly the standard one for entering the grave.
After several minutes of tears streaming silently down my face, and the not-so-silent sobs of my sister-in-law, the time came to close the casket. The carpenter friend had brought a handful beautiful copper nails and had suggested beforehand that we all take turns putting nails in the coffin. The holes had all been pre-drilled, so our shaky hands did not have to be too accurate. The feeling of pounding those nails in the coffin ranks right up there as one of the most intense moments of my life. I thought about some complicated things at the time, like how removed our culture is from processing death on such an intimate level. And I also thought about mundane things, like how loud it must be in that coffin, and how weird it is was that it didn't matter. I was never going to wake her up. And I definitely, for sure, would never see her again.
After that experience the funeral was ant-climactic anyways. It was a lovely ritual, and I feel a little different after having gone through it; a grown-up rite of passage.