Ah, yes, thinking about the day of the viewing, I realized I did forget some plot points about the day before. First, I had gone to the bank to pull cash out of our household account for the funeral home and for incidentals, and also to get quarters for laundry. Turns out, they had no quarters right then. When I bitched to Susan and Tessa about it later, they each said, “Oh, I wish I’d known, I have a ton of quarters at home.” Oh, so you’re the problem, I see.
Also, I made a frittata to use up the dozen eggs that expired in March, but were probably still OK, the sliced cheese that was clearly past its prime, and the weird little bags of leftovers that Charles would have eventually thrown into a soup – half of a chicken cordon bleu breast, one kofta stick. (Side note: Fresh Direct’s kofta sticks are wonderful.) The first egg I cracked into the bowl, the yolk just self-immolated when it hit the bowl. Uh-oh. But the others looked OK, they didn’t smell bad or anything, and I just went ahead and cooked, thinking of this as the ‘danger frittata’. I’d have a slice, and if I started barfing an hour or so later, I’d give it up as a bad job. As it turned out, although it was by no means the tastiest frittata I’d ever made, at least 3 other people besides me had some and no one got sick, and there were even compliments, so… winning?
So, Thursday, the day of the viewing and the start of the rollercoaster ride, no more solo moping or processing for me for quite a while. Dad and Sam were flying in (after some kerfuffle with their tickets, and Sam can go into detail with that story if he wants to) late morning, and then the viewing started in the afternoon. We have a guest room, and also a small room with a washer/dryer and half-bath called ‘the maid’s room’, although we have no maid. It had always been a point of tension for holidays if my family came up, because Mom and Dad got the guest room, but Sam was relegated to the maid’s room, and because it was also a utility room that C needed to get in and out of, it wasn’t nearly as private as the guest room. So this time I made (‘maid’) damn sure that everything I’d need in there, such as the recycling bin, got relocated and Sam truly could have that room to himself. (side note and minor problem: the door wouldn’t stay shut. Annoying. That got dealt with, though, later.)
So I did final prep for the day and laid out my outfit and Sam and Dad showed up as advertised (I hadn’t seen them since Thanksgiving). I fed all of us, knowing it was going to be a long afternoon, and handed them each a set of keys to the apartment. “Please, each of you bring your keys with you even if you think we’re all going to be together, I might have to send one of you back to the apartment for whatever.” They got it, agreed. I also said, “I’m going to need you with me when I go to the funeral home, and the viewing starts, but once it really gets going, you don’t have to stay for the whole thing. You can go out and get coffee, or just go home, it’s fine.”
Meanwhile, I had never gotten contact info for the organist for the service, and send an email about that to the funeral home guys. And, in the car service heading to the funeral home, discovered the organist had called me back on my cell, and left a very poor-connection spotty message that showed he hadn’t really gotten what I’d been aiming for. So, I was like, ‘we’ll deal with this later’. And I had my paperwork with me and all the money in various forms I needed to hand over.
We were greeted and shown in to the viewing room, a very long room with lots of chairs set up (far more than we needed, it turns out, but that was fine). In the back, they had a couple of comfy couches and a large TV, which was playing the video the funeral home had created with all the pictures I’d handed off to them. I’d worried that it would be cheesy, and maybe it was, a little, but mostly it was absolutely lovely and everyone loved watching it. (It’s still on the memorial website. Look for “Tribute Movie”.)
The front of the room, of course, had Charles’s body in his “Merlot” casket with the flowers I ordered (which looked really great). I braced myself, went up and took a look. Yeah, the makeup didn’t help much. Ugh. Charles was a person who shone like the sun, and he wasn’t in there any more, so even though this was the body I’d slept beside for decades, no Charles-warmth made it just this … relic that didn’t need my attention.
There were other flowers, too – beautiful matching bouquets on either side from the Keisers, and nice ones from Dad and Sam, Brad and Trond, my work team, his work team(s) and even the Big Apple Corps, which surprised and delighted me. (I’m sure I’m forgetting some.) The mass cards were there, just as I’d specified.
The Keisers arrived. I’d just seen Allison a few days before, but hadn’t seen Rich or Dottie or Samantha since last August. Rich and Dottie live not too far away, in the Catskills, but Samantha lives outside of St. Paul, so she’d flown in. (Sadly without the husband or kids, but it hadn’t made sense for them to make the trip.)
(side note: although they’re both ‘Sam’, I’ll refer to our niece as “Samantha” and my brother as “Sam” here. Although Sam P used to be ‘Samantha’ himself.)
People started showing up. I won’t remember the timing, but one of the first ones was Tony Campisi, an old friend of Charles from the restaurant days. Tony’s an actor, the sort you see as a security guard in one scene on Law & Order. It was great to see him. We had neighbors come, people from Charles’s job, more than one set of friends who I’d done theater or opera with in Philadelphia, my college roommate and his husband, band friends, theater people, Charles’s cousin and his daughter, G&S people (a wonderful professional singer I’ve only worked with once decided to come, which delighted me), and even a representative from an online forum community who I’d never met IRL before. For some reason, I found myself not in ‘grieving widow’ but ‘party host’ mode and was ever so chatty with everyone. Charles has trained me too well.
At some point, Bill the funeral guy called me out to the hallway – he’d gotten the church organist on the phone. Again, his cell phone connection was bad, and important words were being dropped. He said with trepidation he’d heard that I wanted to bring a singer and I assured him that that was not true. And I said, I know I have to pick the hymns, and we’ll do that, but I’m hoping you can put “O Magnum Mysterium” in there (Charles loved that piece). And he just wasn’t getting it and asked me to be more specific (?). And I said ‘TOMAS LUIS DE VICTORIA IS THE COMPOSER. O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM IS THE PIECE’ and he was like, Oh! And I said, I know you’re not going to have a choir there, but could you just play it on organ? And he was like, sure I’ll take a look, maybe I can find an arrangement. And I was like, if you can’t, I’ll look it up on IMSLP and he was like, “I’m already there…” so we did get on the same page about it. He’s like, “That’s a Christmas piece.” and I said, “I know, is that a problem?” and he was like, “I’ll beg forgiveness.” So that was that.
When Bill took me aside to finish paperwork and so I could give him lots of money, he also pressed for more details on the service, showing me a sheet he needed to fill out. We’d already established the readings and the readers, but nothing else. I said, “Look, I don’t know any of the hymns. Take this sheet of paper into the viewing, show it to my brother-in-law, and he’ll pick the hymns”. And Rich did, and also noticed that we hadn’t filled in the gift-presenters and said ‘Samantha and Allison’ and just like that, the service was set. (And we didn’t do a eulogy). And that was the last piece that had to fall into place.
Towards the end, various groups of people who’d been there for the whole time started taking off – Susan and our mutual friend bunch went up the street to Donovan’s for dinner. Sam texted me that he and Dad (having left hours before) were getting dinner at a local diner. So that was all fine.
Up in the front row, they’d put the nice comfy chairs, and there were two armchairs. Rich had claimed one and so I took the other one – we had a nice talk together and for the only time there, I broke down a little, which was only right. And then the Keisers took off for their long drive back to Roscoe, and I said a goodnight to C over the body. The funeral home people put the memorial register and the mass cards in a bag for me, and also had me take three of the small bouquets, which wouldn’t be taken to the church. Patti and Tessa took me and all those flowers home, we had some danger frittata and final hashing the whole day out with me and my dad in the living room, and they left for their local hotel and we went to bed.
I will say that it was a more joyous day than I expected. It was so great to see all those people and, as I said to nearly everyone, “I have been feeling overly caffeinated for days now, and I’m just going to ride this wave of mania while I have it and get stuff done.” But it was a long day and I had no voice left, and while I don’t remember, I suspect I slept pretty soundly.
One thought on “The Viewing”
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the writing you have done regarding the loss of Charles. It allows me to be there too, though I wasn’t and wishing doesn’t make it so. Despite the course of my life out of the city and then to the South and many years of exchanging Xmas cards not much else – maybe a rare direct communication, Charles remained a dearest friend, rock solid, in for the count. Someone with whom I could share pretty much anything, whether we were slogging through another night at Marvin’s, or at the theatre or a museum, or at your gracious home for another feast He will be sorely missed.
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