Saturday, December 5, 2009

Visitation Rites

Even though I thought and still think the visitation tradition is, to put it more charitably than I have for much of the last couple days, redundant and more than likely a fiendish ploy designed by a pernicious funeral home owner looking to suck every available penny out of grieving relatives, I attended Lisa's first visitation period with Harvey and his sister Cindy.

As anyone following me on twitter is now aware, I think most traditions are kind of silly (a good excuse for a bad habit, I usually say, though Steve Logan on facebook made a valid argument in their favour). Having said that, Lisa was deeply invested in tradition and she loved this community. I didn't want to go, but I didn't want Mum or Dad to go if they didn't want to, and they pretty definitively didn't want to. And Lisa--who's the one member of our immediate family who absolutely would have been there for any other family member--had a previous commitment. It seemed to me that, as much as the Foley side of Lisa's family does not deal well with these situations (like anyone does, right?), there should be someone there to represent them on this occasion. By default, that someone had to be me.

Fortunately, Harvey and Cindy were also there, as they're much better at talking with people than I am. Also better at talking with people is Lisa's good friend Nancy, who was also there pretty much for the duration and I suspect is back there now.

I'd be there now myself but Mum and Dad are picking up a sizable contingent from the Thunder Bay branch of the family tree and, their previously stated reservations notwithstanding, will be going to the visitation afterwards. So T and I are "taking care" of Cevyn, by which I mean, we're sitting in the basement watching TV and blogging, and she's sitting upstairs watching TV, reading the second volume of Svetlana Chmakova's NIGHTSCHOOL {I'd bought both available volumes for her for Christmas, but decided to give them to her now--as with Svet's previous graphic novel DRAMACON, she's cutting through them {and VAMPIRE KNIGHT volumes} like a cute, cuddly, mildly irritated by her uncle threshing machine} and generally avoiding her silly and frequently irritating uncle.)

The visitation was just as weird and uncomfortable as I'd feared it would be. H, C, and Nancy all interacted with the visitors more than I did, mostly, I suspect, because sitting in a corner and glaring balefully at anyone I didn't personally know (which was basically everyone but a couple of Cevyn's friends) wasn't the most inviting of postures for me to have on display. The pounding magraine I developed seconds after entering the funeral home did not have me feeling particularly sociable, which is a convenient excuse, but I can't honestly say I'd have been much better if head and back were in tiptop condition.

In fairness to me, I did take the initiative to talk to several people unprompted. Mostly these were people standing quietly in a line behind an invisible "Please wait here till the previous mourner has finished talking to Lisa's husband" sign. It was awkward enough not talking to anyone when everyone was talking to someone else; sitting sullenly not talking to anyone when someone else in the room was also conspicuously not talking to someone else reminded me of countless parties I'd rather forget. So I dragged my sorry self to my feet, walked across the floor, introduced myself, chatted a bit.

A curious thing happened during the course of the several conversations I had this afternoon. Everyone who knew her has a Lisa story to tell, and all of them were different (well, almost all of them involved laughter and an interesting percentage involved dressing up in adult diapers, but for the most part, different stories). I wished I could manage the originality and offer up something new, some bon mot designed specifically to put each individual person I was talking to at their ease.

But by the end of the two and a half or so hours, I felt like I'd almost turned into the guy I become when I'm standing behind a table at a comic convention, in that I was saying the same things repeatedly to different people, almost by rote:
-"You worked with her at the hospital? She really loved you guys. The flag at half-mast really touched our family. Mum's going to try and take her family to see the memorial, but I'm not sure Mum's ready to see it herself."
-"Your child goes to school with Cevyn? You guys have been so supportive to her during this time, we really appreciate it...Cevyn? Well, she's a teenager, you know? She seems to be taking it better than anyone, which worries me a little. I'm not sure it's really hit her yet, but she's so quiet it's hard to guess what's going on with her."
-"You work with Harvey? He's over there."
-"I'll have a #4 combo with Coke Zero." Wait, that's what I use at the drive-thru for Wendys.

Now, all of that stuff is true, and I said it in as heartfelt a manner as I could manage. But there was a weird, ritual quality to it. It was hard (for me, for cynical, hard-bitten me) not to feel there was an element of performance to it all. Which actually made it easier to talk to these strangers. Playing the role of a grieving brother somehow let me act like I perceive a grieving brother's supposed to act, rather than doing the things I'm actually inclined to do, like lurking on the edge of the crowd, scowling at people (not on purpose, mind you. I've just got what Michael Ironsides calls "an angry face"), and heaping scorn on expensive, redundant traditions I don't understand.

I suspect I should be embarrassed to admit to any of this. If anyone out there reading is actually someone I talked to this afternoon, I hope you'll understand that none of it is in any way intended to diminish your feelings, and I hope you'll forgive me for giving myself some emotional distance from the situation. It was that or me breaking down in a heap of tears and snot and bitterness and anger in front of you, which would just have embarrassed both of us.

And...I'll admit I feel a little better for having "done my part" this afternoon, however silly I think this particular practice is. There's no question in my mind that being there is something Lisa would have done. And it pleases me to believe my being there would have made her--not me, not my family, not some nebulous community I have no stake in, but my sister--proud.

A

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Andrew, I think I met you once a very long time ago when I visited with Lisa in Calgary. But your words about Lisa and the experiences make me feel like I am in Ottawa. If I could I would have been at the funeral. You are all in my thoughts and prayers. And yes my stories about Lisa include her amazingly positive attitude no matter what, nothing got her down. Things that would get me down she'd have me laughing at. SHe was amazing and I am happy to know you went through with the visitation time living out what Lisa would have done, that is the ultimate respect. Give Cevyn a hug -- I used to babysit her when she was in Calgary so I am trying to remember I guess she was 4 -- but somehow I haven't aged as much as her? Take care you are all in my thoughts.