I visited a dead guy this week.
Having graduated to my fifties, I find myself standing next to a casket, remarking on its contents, far more often than I would prefer. Funeral culture: it’s a thing.
My grandmother used to take me with her to many a visitation. For the funeral novices among us, this is sort of a dead guy open house. The Deceased is pruned and jacketed and put on display so everyone can get a good look at their own futures. The visitation is also a nice venue for catching up with relatives and friends. Thanks to my grandmother’s weird habit of bringing a small child with her for these macabre events, I am now well-equipped to interact with the grieving. I am also adept at casket-side commentary.
When this troubling dynamic first began, I realized I had nothing to wear. No problem. A visit to my local thrift store provided me with the appropriate garb, shoes and all. Strangely, I now own several sets of mourning attire. But nobody really cares what you look like, well, not unless you’re in the casket.
It’s good to visit a dead guy whenever you can, even though most people don’t care for the experience. And why should they? The Dead remind the Living that there’s an epic STOP waiting for all of us. We are finite. Even though we all know this to be true, most of us don’t like being reminded. In the same way that I want to stand in the yard whenever there’s a tornado warning, I tend to navigate toward these functions because I want to know what’s coming, and from which direction. I want to see it. When I visit a dead guy, everything that tries to dominate my life is put in its proper place and perspective.
I was pondering this in the bathtub, the other day. I was taking a bath in the middle of the day, because a mid-day bath is a wicked luxury. We live near enough to an airport that I can occasionally hear the low rumble of a distant flyover. For the slightly paranoid, this sound can be arguably similar to that of, say, an atomic blast from many miles away. So, I’m in the luxury bath, listening to the Grateful Dead, and The Bomb hits. At that moment, the point of eminent, naked death, Jerry Garcia, tonight’s dinner, and painting the bedroom seem like stupid things to be concerned about.
Visiting a dead guy helps me separate the idiotic from the essential. I wonder what my friend was thinking just before his heart stopped. He definitely wasn’t planning on dropping dead, was he? Having recently moved back to my hometown, I assumed I would run into Jimmy before too long, and we would swap stories and laugh. I certainly didn’t see this coming, and I’m sure he didn’t see it, either. The last story Jimmy Hooper shared with me was the only story a dead guy ever tells: Don’t put off spending time with the people you care about, because the next thing you know, you’ll be shopping for black at Goodwill.