Michael Kimball
Interview with Michael Kimball
Bio

How Much of Us There Was

The Viewing Room of the Funeral Home, What She Really Looked Like Inside Her Casket, and the Pictures of Her that He Took

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    My Grandmother Oliver died before my Grandfather Oliver did. She died at home, at night, in that time just before the morning comes up, just before she was supposed to wake up.

    My grandfather stayed with her for a few hours before he called the doctor and the funeral home. My grandfather knew that that was going to be the last time that he was going to be alone with her. But he was also waiting until she had been dead long enough so that she couldn't be revived by anybody. My grandmother didn't want to be only that much alive, even though my grandfather wanted her to be alive for as long as she could be.

    There were three days of viewing at the funeral home before her funeral and her burial. My grandfather and the rest of our family that was still alive stayed in the viewing room of the funeral home for all of the viewing hours on all of those viewing days. My grandfather sat up near the casket on a chair with a long back and one of the rest of us - my mother, my brother, my sister, his sister, or me - always sat with him.

    The people who my grandmother and my grandfather had known, all of them who weren't already dead, they would walk into the viewing room, walk up to my grandmother's casket, and look at her face and her hair and her hands. They would maybe touch the side of her casket, maybe say a prayer, and then turn away from her casket to walk over to my grandfather to say something to him.

    They would usually say something about what a wonderful or a generous or a kind and loving woman that my grandmother was and how lucky we all were to have known her for the time that we did. Any of this was true. She was. We were. But they would also usually say something about need, how if my grandfather needed anything, if there were anything that they could do for him, that he should let them know. But there wasn't anything that he needed then except for his wife to be alive and back at home with him.

    I keep thinking about each of us sitting in the viewing room with my grandfather and how that must have been our family's attempt to approximate my grandmother and how she sat with my grandfather for all of the years that they were married - how they sat together at the kitchen table, the dining room table, and on the couch in front of the television in their living room.

   I keep thinking about how I watched all of those people go up to my grandmother inside her casket to give her their last respects. I had given mine, but I couldn't look at her inside that casket for very long. There wasn't anything there that reminded me of my grandmother and how she was when she was alive, except for the dress with the flower print on it that she had made for herself and that they had dressed her body up with.

   Everything else seemed wrong - the unnatural color that her hair had become after she died, how her face and her neck and her hands were thick with that funeral make-up, the strange way that they had made her hair up so much curlier than it had ever been when she was alive, and even that she was even dead and laid out inside that casket inside a viewing room with all of those other people looking at her. I didn't want to remember any of it.

   This is why I am still surprised when I think about my grandfather taking pictures of my grandmother inside her casket inside that viewing room. My grandfather had gotten up out of his chair with the long back, walked up to the casket that held his wife inside it, and held his instant camera up to his face. He looked through the viewfinder of his instant camera for a long time before he took any pictures of her and I keep thinking about how the camera lens was turning her upside down and then right side up again and that that might have somehow made her look and seem alive again through some trick of mirrors or perspective or light.

   Or maybe it was the way a picture of her brightened in his hands after it came out of his instant camera, the way she turned from some kind of filmy gray back into all of the colors that she had been. My grandfather held her in his hands. He blew on each fresh picture of her and waved it back and forth and waited for her to materialize before him.

   

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