Doing Death

When my mother died, the doctors pumped my father so full of tranquilizers and mood elevators that he lumbered through the funeral like a representative of the living dead.  He had awakened one morning to discover his wife dead beside him, and, since he was a heart patient, the doctors were afraid that he could not survive the shock.  In a real sense, he did not.  Neither the pills that took away his humanity nor the surgeries that turned him schizophrenic could prevent his body from complying with the decision his spirit had made on the day his wife died.

My mother’s funeral was the usual modern farce.  My parents had liked to travel, and, although they still had old friends in Charleston, where she was to be buried, they were old friends, by and large, with whom she had lost touch.  The priest, whom my father had known as a ballplayer, had never met my mother, but that did not keep him from descanting on what a “byudeeful, byudeeful” person she was.

It was an embarrassing moment, one I have had to relive at nearly every subsequent funeral.  People no longer stay in one place, and, if they do, few of them go to church.  American funerals have been liberated from the ugly fact of death, as hypocritical preachers assure the audience that the dead nonbeliever who left his wife and cheated on his business partners “is in a better place.”  At one...

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