“How the hell did we get here?”
“Really Ella, is now the time?”
Ella sat in the back seat of her mother’s car like a child. She felt like a child.
It didn’t matter that she was in her twenties; sitting in the carpark of his funeral, she still felt like her Grandad’s little girl.
“We’ve just got to get through today, okay? And behave yourself for your Grandfathers sake, will you?” Ella’s mother, Neve, directed.
“Let’s just hope Uncle Tim behaves. Actually, let’s hope he doesn’t.” Ella replied from the back through a forced smile while her sister, Lisa, sat in silence in the front seat.
God, I hate this.
Inside the funeral home, Ella plonked herself on a couch in the entrance room next to her tearful cousins. She looked at the three other girls and the two guys. “How are we going to be able to lift him?”
“The head is the heavy end. We’ll put the boys there.”
“Okay.” She started playing with her hands in her lap. She didn’t know where to look in case something made her cry. Where were the snacks?
The only good thing about a funeral.
The mousy funeral director glided into the room on a wind of self-importance. She tapped Neve on the shoulder, interrupting her as she greeted guests.
“We’ve moved the casket to the side room, just for another half an hour until all the guests have arrived. The family can go say their last goodbyes before we close the lid if they wish.” She smiled with the stiff warmth of a professional. She did this every day, and this was an easy one for her. Ninety years old; died with family around him. Lived a full life and it was just nature taking its course. She was almost enjoying it. Sick.
“Anyone who didn’t go in yesterday want to see Dad one more time?” Neve asked. Ella had been, and she’d cried silently into her palm, placing a copy of her speech into his stiff hand. How stoic and still he’d looked lying there.
“Actually, I’d like to go in.” Uncle Tim stood and walked into the holding room. Ella hadn’t smelt any liquor on his breath this morning. Boring.
Across the room, Lisa had barely spoken aside from saying hello. She never expressed her emotions, so today was hardly going to be any different. Ella smiled at her, letting her know she was there. Lisa rolled her eyes and forced a smile back. A death in the family was hardly about to make them emotionally available to each other.
Ella shuddered. How morbid that we’re all sitting here waiting to bury a man deep in the ground?
Tim came out of the room as white as sheet. His grief was etched on his ashen face as he shook out a hanky from his sleeve.
“God, he looks awful. What have they done?” He said under his breath.
“Don’t be so rude, Tim!” His wife Louise hissed and pulled him away to start greeting the arriving guests. Ella smirked. There was something so normal about the reprimand it relaxed her. She just had to get through her speech, then carry the coffin out with her cousins. Then it’s done; then she could relax. She could do this.
“It’s time to close the lid, Ma’am.” The funeral director led Neve into the room and Ella stood, pausing outside the door.
The coffin was at the far end of the room on a long trolley with wheels. A box of tissues sat on a table next to his head as if he was going to wake up any moment and need to blow his nose.
It was a grand, oak coffin – one he would have picked out years ago. Ella thought it looked very comfortable. He’d chosen well.
Neve walked slowly up to the side and peered in. She stood there silently for a moment.
“That is not my father.”
The funeral director placed a comforting hand on Neve’s arm and patted it twice for reassurance.
“Yes dear. Yes, it is.”
“No, that is not him. That’s not his nose.” She replied.
“Our loved ones can look a little different in this state. I know it can be upsetting.”
“That is not his nose and he is not wearing glasses. Remember we decided to keep them on yesterday? I saw you put them on him.”
The blood drained from the funeral director’s face.
Ella swung around with her hands over her mouth and nose. “Oh my God, guys.”
“What is it?”
The funeral director scurried out of the room with tears welling in her eyes. She squealed for her assistant to help close the lid of the coffin and wheel the body out the back to make the switch.
“They had the wrong body. That was not Dad.” Neve said in shock.
“What? How is that possible?”
“It was the same coffin. Just a different body.”
Tim came around the corner to join them. “I knew it didn’t look like him!”
“Why didn’t you say anything!” Louise snapped at him.
“I did! You told me to be quiet!”
“How could you not see it was the wrong person? Have you been drinking?”
“No Louise! I thought he’d deteriorated overnight since you had all seen him. I didn’t want to be rude!”
Louise and Tim continued to bicker as the funeral director rushed backwards around the corner with an identical coffin.
“I am so sorry, Mrs Donald. Please come back in so you can be certain this is your father. I am so sorry I can’t believe this has happened.” She wheeled him into the side room and Neve and her siblings followed.
The six grandchildren stood out in the hallway staring at each other.
“Imagine if we had carried out the wrong guy.”
“We’d have buried some random with Nan!”
And for the first time that day, Lisa broke. Her sullen face cracked into a grin and she laughed out loud. She cackled and bent over slapping her thigh; tears finally slipped out of her eyes as she looked up at her cousins.
“You couldn’t make this up!” She giggled. “Tim’s face when he came out!”
Then Ella too started to crack, letting out a squeal and joining her sister.
Grandad would have died laughing. If he weren’t already dead.
Then all the cousins were doubled over cackling and crying in the entrance room of their Grandfathers funeral service.
Ella wiped the tears from her cheeks as her mother came back out of the room. Their eyes met briefly before Neve too broke into a relieved smile.
“Who would have thought I would be comforting a sobbing funeral director at my own father’s funeral?”
“Mourning her job probably.” Ella joked. “Imagine if they’d cremated him while Mr Imposter lay out here.”
Neve smiled and let out a breath. “At least something made us all smile today.”
Ella reached out and squeezed her mother’s hand. She straightened her dress with her hands and tightened her ponytail. Her mother was right, she thought. Somehow, they’d all managed to laugh on a day they had been dreading.
Snacks AND accidental body swaps make a good funeral.
She exhaled and made her way to her seat in the service room.
Time to say goodbye.