My uncle Jack died and I went to the visitation today. Jack was my Dad's brother, and therefore my step-uncle. It's a little complicated: I consider Dan (my stepfather) to be my Dad, my step-grandmother my grandma, but Jack is my step-uncle. Since Dad died seventeen years ago, we haven't heard much from that side of the family, which isn't all that surprising, I suppose.
I went fully expecting two things: 1. I expected the corpse to be photographed. 2. I expected no one would recognize me.
First, about corpse photography. Dad's aunt had a book of daguerreotypes and old photos and quite a few of them were of the dead. (I suppose they wouldn't move much and it made them good daguerreotype subjects. Plus, the photo wouldn't steal their souls.) This was fascinating to me.
I know some families feel even today that the dearly departed is an apt subject for photos. I find this repellent. You know what else is repellent? Touching the corpse. This brings me to:
Mom's mom died and was outlived by her husband Ray, my STEP-(oh SO step)-Grandfather. He did a scandalous thing at her funeral. Well, he brought his girlfriend, but this in my eyes was even more scandalous: he touched the dead body. He was discussing her arthritis and hauled her hand out of the coffin as a visual aid. Aunt Carleen hustled up to him and said, haughtily and distinctly, "Have you LOST your mind?" I don't know what happened next, Gary dragged me over to some flowers and distracted me.
Gary's family has a long history of touching the corpse. This is why I donated my body to science.
Step-uncle Jack was not photographed or touched during the time I was there (approx 12 minutes). I didn't stay long, but I went because he was related to my Dad, and because Mom would expect a report. I have attended visitations as Mom's proxy before. For example, I went to:
Mom's Friend Carolyn's Father's Funeral
Nothing much happened at that funeral per se - I went to give Carolyn a hug from my mom. I did not view the corpse, since I had not only never met him, I had never heard stories about him. So the corpse of honor was of no interest to me. I did not view the corpse, I just gave Carolyn my mom's respects.
A few weeks later, Mom asked Carolyn, "So how's your Dad feeling?"
"Dead." (I was not there but I can guess there was an awkward pause.) "... Your daughter was at the funeral."
Mom stepped up to the challenge. "She did not report seeing a coffin. How am I to know he's really dead?"
So I called Mom from the parking lot to remind her not to make any faux pas if she encountered her in-laws. I was expecting to go unrecognized by this family because as I said, it had been seventeen years, and sixty pounds, but as soon as I walked in Brad saw me and introduced me to someone as his cousin Ellen. It reminded me of:
My STEP-Grandfather Ray's funeral
On the way to Southern Missouri to attend Ray's funeral, Mom alerted me that I would meet some distant relatives I might not recognize. (Not that "those people" would care if I didn't know them. ) Ray had a family from his first wife and there were quite a few of them. I had heard stories of embezzling and babies born in tubs, but I hadn't known what connection "those people" had with Grandpa Ray. It seems I hadn't seen them at Grandpa and Grandma's EVER because "those people" weren't all that welcome at my Grandma's house. This is why I was floored when they saw mom and said:
"Margie! Come over here! This is our sister Margie! And who is this? Hey, kids, that's your Cousin Ellen!"
That is why is was kind of nice that my cousin Brad did recognize me and introduced me as his cousin Ellen. This immediately elevated him from step-cousin to cousin status. In fact, cousin Jayne and cousin Sandy recognized me too. That's why I went over to the body and and looked (but did not touch).
"Why, Ellen" my step-uncle Jack's corpse said, "How ya doin'?" Then he reached out of the coffin and slapped my back. Well, no, I made that up. But he looked like he could have. He was barely dead. It was creepy. I have never seen such an alive-looking corpse. He looked just like Jack did while alive. Draw your own conclusions.