December 27, 2008

Funeral Crashing, Aphasia Style

My husband, Don, is an obituary clipper. It’s not a hobby that he picked up since becoming a ‘certain age’ like most people would assume of old people who have a box full of newspaper announcements of this sort. He’s been doing this for at least thirty-five years. Don has a memory like an elephant and he also knew a lot of people, so his collection of clippings was huge at the time of his massive stroke when the collection got thrown out with our move to a wheelchair accessible house. When his ability to read returned, several years later, back came the obituary clipper part of his personality.

In Don’s distance past he worked at a funeral home as an after school job while he was in high school. He did various things like take the hearse to the hospital to pick up bodies, put flags on cars on funeral days and wash black vehicles. They liked him so much that they wanted to pay his way into undertaking school but he wasn’t buying that as a career choice. The experience did give my husband a special reverence for the importance of funerals and he never looked for excuses not to go to one. In Don’s book, it’s a duty to honor the dead and comfort the living and he’s not about to close that book now that he uses a wheelchair and can’t talk due to his severe stroke related language disorders, aphasia and apraxia.

In the past, of course, there were many funerals that he went to that I didn’t have to attend because I had no history with the dearly departed. I don’t have that privilege any more and Friday was such an occasion. Don had a clipping and the funeral was to be held at the mortuary where he had once worked. A double header, I presumed on the Planet Aphasia. The name of the dead guy sounded vaguely familiar to me but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get it out Don how he knew the gentlemen. Oh, but he was animate! This was a funeral where just sending a card would not do. He was going---no ifs, ands or buts about it. Don’s aphasic brain couldn’t say the words: “If you won’t drive me, I’m taking my wheelchair all the way into town” but the determined look on his face sure got that message across. So, off we go in our somber clothing. We’re there doing our funeral thing. Greeting people who spoke to us, signing the guest book and still I couldn’t figure out where this dead guy fit into Don’s life. People would ask us how we knew the guy but, of course, neither Don nor I could tell them. I was doing my standard he-can’t-talk-and-I-don’t-know routine and feeling like I’d like to melt into the floor boards when Don finally got out the word, “Four.” So we started doing the aphasic polka.

“Four that---months, years, days, hours, seconds, people, places, or things?” I asked.
“Years!” Don beamed like that’s going to tell me the entire story. He was so proud of himself for getting out that clue to the mystery. Four years. Okay. We started the aphasic polka all over again.

 To make a long story short, just as we were getting seated so the service could begin my aphasia decoder ring finally broke the code. The only person Don knew in the dead dude's family was only four years old the last time he saw him, and that was way back when Don was in high school, working at that funeral home forty-seven years! Don occasionally kept the four year old busy at the funeral home when his parents visited the undertaker. So I’m sitting there in one of those little wooden chairs that are always too close together for comfort, listening to a bad version of “Precious Memories” and trying my best not to laugh up a cow on the spot. It was not easy, let me tell you. Even a few people near-by who had over heard our aphasic polka exchange were cracking up.
After the service, we didn’t stay for cake and coffee although I’m sure Don would have liked to have done so---there are no strangers in his world. And thus ended another wonderful experience on the Planet Aphasia where every day brings something new to laugh about. We have now officially crashed the funeral of an almost total stranger.

Jean Riva ©


Judy said...

So glad you linked this!

Jean R. said...