My dad died on April 5 of this year. We knew it was coming--he had Alzheimer's, and toward the end he seemed to decline pretty quickly. His small family (my mother, my sister and her...roommate--for lack of a better word--her daughter, and my two boys) gathered in a small room at the funeral home. A few rows of chairs were set up but weren't needed. I was impressed to see tissue boxes built into the walls.
There was no service, no family friends...just a rather hurried goodbye before he was sent to be cremated.
My family tends to look for the dark humor in tragedy, so instead of excessive weeping, we told jokes and stories. Dad was lying on a table, covered by a white sheet. Only his head was visible; he looked a little waxy, but really not bad at all. I was afraid this image of his head would continue to haunt me and follow me around like a floating bowl of Cream of Wheat, but so far that hasn't happened.
He still had great hair for a man his age, 81. We're still amazed he lasted that long, given the abuse he put his body through with drinking. We figured it acted as a preservative.
We sat for several minutes telling old stories--the same ones we always told--and alternately going up to him to say goodbye, then sitting down, then going up to say goodbye again. It couldn't have been much more than 20 minutes, and my mother had had enough. She was ready to go. She didn't want to see him up close.
Twenty minutes to try to squeeze in a lifetime of goodbyes, of "I love you"s not spoken in life.
It wasn't easy, but we got through it. We went out to lunch afterward, and threw rolled up balls of straw paper at each other.
It's not a bad coping mechanism.