b Papa Dog's Blog: My First Funeral

Papa Dog's Blog

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

My First Funeral

Uncle Kenny was Grandpa Feunoir’s brother. That actually made him my great-uncle, but my brother and sisters and I all called him Uncle Kenny. I did it unquestioningly, the way a child will. That was just his name. When I got old enough to start thinking these things through for myself, it was a puzzler. If all those aunts, I reasoned, were Grandma Feunoir’s daughters, that must mean Uncle Kenny was her son. That caused some indignation when she got wind of it. Uncle Kenny was older than she was.

Uncle Kenny died around 1970 or 71 I guess, when I was five or six or seven. I had never been to a funeral before. I knew I was supposed to be on my best behaviour, but I was a kid. In the hallway outside the room where the relatives were gathered to pay their respects I played with the two of my many cousins nearest in age to me. I had – if I’m counting correctly – twenty-two cousins, plus the three siblings. Of the twenty-six members of my generation (I had no cousins on my father’s side), I was the youngest. Always the baby in any room.* We found a candy machine and begged parents for change. We played with cards someone had thought to bring. We told jokes. After a while, we forgot where we were entirely. We ran around, we yelled, we hid and sought. Either the noise didn’t carry or the grown-ups were too occupied; we weren’t told to sit down and shut the hell up more than once or twice.

In the days before the funeral, my parents tried gingerly to prepare me for the occasion. They weren’t quite sure if I was old enough to go, or even to understand what was going on. I don’t exactly recall the conversation, but I think they asked me if I wanted to attend. I said, as tentatively as they, “Well, I’ve never seen a dead body before….” I didn’t understand yet that things like that get repeated. I got more guarded once I caught on, but that was years later. I was surprised and mortified to discover at the funeral that this comment had been reported to Grandpa Feunoir. He came up to me in the hallway where I was playing and said, “I hear there’s a little boy who’s never seen a dead body before.” He took me into the viewing room and over to the coffin. He picked me up and let me have a peek. I thought Uncle Kenny looked asleep, and I probably said so. I can’t think what else I might have said. I suppose Grandpa Feunoir felt he had adequately introduced me to the mystery of death. He set me down and let me go back to running around in the hallway, and that’s exactly what I did. You might think this interval with mortality had reduced me to a sombre state, but you’d be wrong. Death isn’t as big a deal to a six year old as it is to an adult. Even when it’s looking you in the face, it’s still a big abstraction. It’s something that happens to some people sometimes, usually old ones.

Only a year or two later the funeral was for Grandpa Feunoir. Nobody boosted me up to see in the coffin because there was nobody there who would have thought to do so. I saw him, though, and he looked like he was asleep too.

*Baby Dog, being the first born to the last born is also the youngest of her generation, probably including all her second cousins or cousins once removed or whatever it is that the children of my cousins are to her. There's a sixteen-year gap between her and the youngest of my sisters' kids.


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