I entered the mortuary with my heart in my throat and my father at my side. Nerves wracked through my gut, I had no idea how I would react when I first saw my uncle. Would I freeze? Would I not be able to go into the room?
I shakily opened the door and began to walk inside, as I rounded the corner I began to glimpse him. Like an animatronic in a horror show, I barely recognised him. Laying so still with his features so gaunt. I could see the glue on his lips that they used to keep his mouth from opening. Tears began to fill my eyes.
I sat next to the coffin with my Dad on the opposite side. I watched as he stroked his little brothers head and cried. I watched for a long time, this was much worse than any sad movie I’d seen on TV. ‘You can kiss him on his head if you like, it will make you feel better.’ My Dad said as he lent over the coffin to kiss his little brothers head. I stood up to do the same but an invisible wall stopped me from moving any closer to his face. ‘I don’t think I can,’ I said with a withering voice. I settled for patting his hands that were resting in his lap. They felt very cold, no one warned me of how cold they would feel. I withdrew quickly.
I stayed sat on my chair as the rest of my fathers very catholic family arrived. My Nona and my uncles three sisters all sat and proceeded to kiss his head, stroke his hands, speak to him and weep.
I sat staring at my uncles body, boxed in due to my Italian speaking being limited, barely being able to even offer my words of sympathy and regret.
This is horrible, I thought. But I also thought that this is necessary.
You Need to See This
My uncle died very suddenly at the age of 59. He was always fit and strong but a hidden virus attacked his heart whilst he was at the gym. He suddenly collapsed and without oxygen getting to his brain for over 40 minutes, he died shortly after being airlifted to hospital.
He left behind two young children and a grieving wife. He was a legend in the small Italian village where my family is from. This was duely shown by the hundreds of people that gathered to walk with his coffin through the streets, as is the tradition in Catholic Italy.
What proceeded throughout that day was very much, so far, the worst day of my life. Nothing quite beats standing around an open grave and watching a loved one being lowered into it whilst his 90 year old wailing mother cries out “No, my son, my son!” Begging them not to lower him any further, as you cling onto your Dad whilst he cries like you’ve never seen him cry before.
Yet throughout all of this ordeal all I could feel was ashamed. Ashamed that I’d not come to any of my relatives funerals before, this was my first one. Being in England, it’s very easy to say that you can’t make an event such as this, to have my Dad go back alone. “I have work!” You say, or “I can’t get a flight!” But I realised on this day that I was being weak. Weak and selfish. No one likes going to funerals, but you still have to go. You have to out of respect for the person that died and to support your family. There’s also one other reason why you need to go.
To become acute to the actualisation of mortality.
This event changed me, and I think for the better. After witnessing loved ones surrounding a dead body, this unmoving sack of organs that invokes repulsiveness and putridisity, this thing that you normally aquaint to nightmares and horror movies. After seeing them not only surrounding this thing but kissing it, stroking it, and mourning over it. You realise that this dead thing has the features of someone you love, and it’s not a recreation…It’s actually them. This is what we all turn into, every single one of us.
Everyone knows this, but we don’t really know it, we suppress it. People beleive that they’re immortal subcontiously, why else would we fight with the ones we love? Why else would we defer spending time with each other? We wouldn’t do a lot of these things if we knew. If we knew the truth that someday, sooner than you think, we’ll be that unmoving sack that everyone will be mourning over, unable to reach up and tell them that you love them and always have.
So, I implore you all to listen. Go to the ones you love, your children, your parents, your partner, and tell them that you love them. Cut arguments short, try to speak civilly with the love and respect that we all deserve. Make the effort to do nice things with each other and to make happy memories, as one day very soon, we’ll all be gone.