The Viewing Room

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is just a short memoir about the death of my Grandad.

Submitted: January 25, 2011

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Submitted: January 25, 2011



The Viewing Room
The year was 2007, and I was taking a trip out with my parents, Angela and Adrian, my brother Luke, and my Nan, Margaret. Usually, the only time the five of us would be together in the car like this would be when we would go to visit my Grandma and Grandad in Earby, a small town just inside Lancashire. However, this trip was quite different. We were not going to Earby.
None of us said a word as we rode in silence toward our destination. This was unusual as normally my Mother and Nan especially would be chatting constantly. But not today. There was some conversation, but it was muted somehow. I stared blankly out of the window to my right at the rows of houses, shops, lamp-posts and people that flashed across my vision as the car sped past. I found it calming and, if I was being honest with myself, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to remain in the car and stay safely within my own thoughts. The closer we got to our destination, the more my stomach churned. I knew that once we got there, I would be forced to deal with a situation for which I was not equipped. Again.
My Father pulled up and parked the car on the side of the road, just outside a small funeral home in Burnley. It was a modest building, and looked more like a residential property, like the other buildings around it, than anything else.
“Okay we’re here. Everyone okay?” asked my Dad, as he stopped the car’s engine.
Everyone nodded, and we exited in silence. The door to the funeral home was set back, just above a couple of stone steps. My Dad climbed them and knocked on the door. As he did so, I felt my Mother take my hand.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” she asked.
“Yeah I’m fine.” I replied.
And I did feel fine. I had of course done this before. It was not going to be pleasant, but all I needed to do was get through it and then I would be back in the car. The door opened to reveal a kindly-looking, middle-aged man. I didn’t know what to expect, but he wasn’t it. He had a cheery demeanour that didn’t really seem to fit the situation, but to me this was a good thing.
“Hello, everyone!” he said with a beaming smile.
“Hello”, replied my Father. “We’re here to see my Dad, Francesco Crimi?”
“Yes of course! Please, come on in.”
He led us through the door into a sitting room of sorts. The room in which my Grandfather would be waiting for us was just beyond a doorway towards the back of the room, inside the ‘viewing room’.
“I must say, it’s very nice,” remarked Nan.
“Thank you,” replied the man. “We’re just in the process of doing it up actually. It’s going to take a few moments to get everything ready, so why don’t you all make yourselves at home in here for a while. Would anyone like anything to drink?”
We all asked for a cup of tea each and waited on the sofas on the lounge until we were able to enter the viewing room. Taking in the room’s features, it was very nice. It was quite dark, but it was a calming, tranquil dark. The leather seats were comfortable and the room’s wooden furnishings were completed with a shiny, polished finish.
I don’t know whether this was an intentional effect of the room’s lounge-like features or not, but at least for this moment, the tension seemed to break. Sat around a coffee table in the middle of the room, we began to reminisce about the good times we had always enjoyed with Grandad. I chatted with my brother about his vice-like grip when he used to play with us as children, the days spent in the garden at the back of the house exploring the greenhouse, and the games of Briscola that everyone used to play at the dining table – an Italian card game that we never really understood, but enjoyed being a part of nonetheless. Talking about these good times put me at ease briefly. And then the door to the room opened and in walked the man again.
“Okay everything’s ready. You can go on in now”.
I felt a surge of apprehension rush through my stomach. This was the moment I had been dreading. We all got up silently and filed through one by one into the viewing room. And sure enough, in there waiting for us was Grandad.
“Take as much time as you need,” the man said to us with a sympathetic smile, and exited the room, closing the door behind him, leaving us alone with Grandad.
The atmosphere was horrible. Death and finality hung in the air, thick like incense. I glanced across the room at my parents who were clutching each other tightly, as if they were afraid that if they let go for a second either one of them might be swallowed up by the darkness also. My Nan was stood by them, trying to comfort them. Tears streaked down my mother’s face like small waterfalls. Standing next to them was my brother, who was just staring into space, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. I could tell however that he was holding back tears. I just stood silently and looked down at the intricate, ornate wooden coffin in the centre of the room. My Grandfather lay inside, ironically looking better than he had done in years. He was dressed smartly in a suit, and I remember thinking that the undertakers had done a really good job.
A thin smile was spread across his face. It was the smile of a man who knows that he has finally found his freedom, while the rest of us restlessly and impatiently look for ways to occupy our time until our own inevitable voyage to the other side begins. Maybe that was the reason I was finding it so difficult to become emotional. I was becoming increasingly concerned that the rest of my family would look on me as cold or uncaring, but, even as I tried, I could not shed a tear. As I stared into my Grandfather’s peaceful expression, I pondered whether crying for this man was the appropriate response to his passing. After all, are we not the unfortunate ones? Left here to remain with nothing to do except wait for our own death? Patiently riding along on the train of life, just waiting for it to pull into the station, knowing that when that happens it is the end of the line?
My Father walked towards him and knelt down beside the coffin. He touched my Grandfather’s hand.
“Goodbye, Dad,” he said softly, his voice wavering. I felt sorry for him, as this was the second time he had done this in the last six months, as he had just recently lost his Mother, my Grandmother. I wanted to say something but I couldn’t find the words. This is what I was afraid of. I never knew what to do in this situation. I just stood there, eyes fixed on the coffin. I thought it better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. How could I know how it feels? I had never lost a parent.
As my Father took hold of his hand I thought back to a previous occasion when I had been stood in a room just like this one. It was after my Grandad Wearden had died a couple of years before. I had touched his hand then, and I remember it being a very strange experience. The only feeling I could liken it to was that of cold chicken. It had been my first experience of seeing and feeling a dead body, and the total lack of body heat had disturbed me a little back then. I never wanted to touch a cold body again.
After we left the room and the viewing was over, I felt a feeling of relief wash over me. It was over. We returned to the sitting room. My brother was visibly upset and came over to speak to me.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah I’m alright.”
“I don’t know how you stay so calm.”
Neither did I. I couldn’t explain it, but I didn’t feel sad. At least not in that moment. I’m not sure I felt sad for my Grandfather either. While looking at him in the viewing room, I had been remembering how he had noticeably declined since the death of my Grandmother, and how he had been struggling with his memory to the point where he was finding it difficult to remember who any of us were towards the end of his life. When I thought of things that way, I had begun to ask the question: was death really a sad thing, or the end of his suffering?
“I don’t know I suppose it just hasn’t hit me yet,” I told him. But I had been the same at my Grandmother’s funeral. I could not cry then either. As we got back into the car to return home, I stared out of the window once again at the world outside. But this time I was distracted. I had questions that bothered me. Why was I the only one in the room that couldn’t cry? Was I unfeeling? Did I not love my Grandad enough? Did I not understand or possess real human emotions, like some kind of flesh-and-blood robot?
On the way home I had to find out.
“Mum can I ask you something?”
“Yeah of course, love, what is it?”
“Do you think there is something wrong with me?”
“No, of course not. Why do you ask?”
“I dunno. I couldn’t cry. I feel like some kind of machine.”
“Oh don’t worry about that love,” my Nan joined in. “Not everybody cries.”
“Yeah, It’s okay,” said Mum. “It doesn’t mean that you don’t care. It’s just that you’re able to keep yourself under control. And that’s a good thing. We all know you loved him.”
“I tell you what,” replied Nan, “I actually found it comforting to see one of us not falling apart.”
And with that, I felt instantly comforted. I did love my Grandad. Of course I did. The reason I wasn’t crying was because I knew he was at peace. I was normal after all. I was human.

© Copyright 2018 Vincent Crimi. All rights reserved.

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