Humor Magazine

I Shouldn’t Be Allowed At Wakes

By Katie Hoffman @katienotholmes

Despite it being me and my boyfriend’s second anniversary yesterday, we had a wake to attend for his aunt, and leave it to a family wake to be more eventful than any other anniversary date we could have devised on our own.

Wakes are always uncomfortable, but imagine going to a wake at which you know your boyfriend’s estranged sister and her family will be in attendance, and you’re going to be the same age as most of the attendees’ children. It may seem selfish to concern myself with such trivial matters at an event that’s meant for remembering the life of someone else, but let’s be honest, awkward interactions and palpable family tension are as much a cornerstone of wakes as floral arrangements and tissue boxes.

The wake was from 4-8 PM, but I decided to arrive sometime after 5. Even though I’d gone to a few holidays at my boyfriend’s aunt’s home, and even though I spent most of the prior weekend helping my boyfriend and his cousin (who’s like a brother to him) clean out her apartment, I still thought that arriving at the very beginning of the wake was inappropriate. After all, I’m the girlfriend of her nephew, and this particular aunt was a relative only by marriage. With all these facts in mind, I decided that arriving anytime after 5 PM and staying for the remainder of the wake would be the most appropriate thing to do. Let the immediate family convene early, and I’ll arrive fashionably late.

…But naturally I made the wrong decision and felt like an unsupportive girlfriend, because apparently while I was flat ironing my hair, my boyfriend’s sister arrived with her husband and daughter, leaving my boyfriend to fend for himself. The issues between my boyfriend and his sister took place long before me, and it’s none of my business, but apparently I missed out on one hell of an awkward hug between them. Maybe it’s because I’m an only child, but I don’t understand the whole “I’m not talking to you” sibling issues. We have them in my own family, too, and in my experience, these rifts are always caused by nonsense, and either one or both of the parties involved wishes he or she could make amends but simply doesn’t know where to begin. Unfortunately, no real water-under-the-bridging happened between my boyfriend and his sister, and that’s in partial thanks to a flower fiasco I’ll describe later.

I arrived at the wake around 5:15 PM, and my boyfriend was grateful to finally have some backup. By the time I arrived, several of my boyfriend’s cousin’s friends, coworkers, and family members had shown up to support him. True to form, my boyfriend and I found our place with the crowd of people who instead of blotting their eyes with tissues and giving hugs to every new person that arrived, laughed and tried to make the best of the unfortunate circumstances. I handled my share of, “Isn’t it past your bedtime?” jokes and reminded my tormentors that they’ll be in a room like the one we were in a lot sooner than I will be. My boyfriend’s aunt’s crazy neighbor Lynn soon became the source of our amusement, often at my boyfriend’s instigation. Even without my boyfriend egging her own, Lynn’s drunken antics checked off nearly every wake faux pas on the list, but at least she wasn’t wearing jeans like some of the attendees.

According to my boyfriend’s cousin, Lynn lived next to his mom for a few years, but judging by her reaction to his mother’s passing, you’d have thought they’d been living across the hall from each other for 20 years with a Seinfeld/Kramer relationship. Of all the guests at the wake, my boyfriend’s cousin included, Lynn was the most visibly grief-stricken—then again, that’s probably owed to the fact she was drunk from the time I arrived, and the extent of her inebriation only progressed as it got later. I swear she had a flask hidden in the kitchen. Or in her hair.

The authenticity of Lynn’s hair became a point of contention in our wake faction. My boyfriend was convinced it was a wig, and the rest of us believed it was her real hair. Maybe it’s because my boyfriend is grateful to have all of his hair at 40, but he’s always accusing people of wearing wigs—men and women alike. My assertion is that if as many people were wearing wigs as he claims, there would be a hell of a lot more wig stores around, and as it stands, there’s exactly one wig store in our area called Because of You Wigs (which seems like a passive aggressive name for a wig store even by hair loss standards).

Lynn was slurring her words the whole night, and I think she mentioned that there was food in other room at least 10 times. She also seemed oddly fixated on the minutia of her and my boyfriend’s aunt’s relationship…

“Sh-she was a NICE LADY! She would turn on the eeeair condissshning for me so I’d be cmfterable. I’m gonna miss ‘er.”

For the duration of the wake, my boyfriend and sister didn’t interact. I stayed my distance, and she never attempted to introduce herself. I felt being odd being a party to the effects of a stale conflict, but I also didn’t want to overstep any boundaries. It was a bit uncomfortable because the woman was sitting with her family roughly ten feet away from me, and I could feel her eyeballing me in an attempt to determine the extent of my youth whenever I wasn’t facing her direction.

If I may offer one comment though: her husband looked like he was wearing a disguise that would appear on The Americans, and her daughter was wearing an outfit that might’ve been classy for a nightclub, but not so much for an event that involves an urn.

When he was able to sneak away from greeting some new arrivals, my boyfriend’s cousin alerted us that someone had actually sent flowers to the funeral home addressed to my boyfriend. Sure enough, one of floral arrangements at the front of the room had a card bearing my boyfriend’s name with a “Sorry for your loss” handwritten in the card. The crazy part? They came from his sister.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice gesture given his aunt passed away and he doesn’t have much family to speak of, but we had no idea what it meant.

“Maybe it’s an olive branch of peace!” I offered.

“You think? What’s up with those sticks in there, though? It looks barren…”

With marginal success, we were now analyzing the contents of the floral arrangement to determine what message it conveyed.

Eventually a priest/pastor/soul man/whatever arrived to do his thang, and my boyfriend’s cousin went to sit in front with one of his aunts. Crazy, drunk Lynn decided to leave her appropriate place among the rest of us and join the immediate family, completely uninvited, on the presumed family only couch in the very front row.

With the religious shebang about to begin, my boyfriend and I sat in the back with one of his cousin’s friends/coworkers (who, as I informed my boyfriend afterwards, was my favorite new person at the wake, and the MVWA: most valuable wake attendee). My boyfriend and I aren’t religious, so we were just trying to be as respectful as possible, but I felt like the priest could tell we weren’t down with G-O-D, because he seemed to be zoning in our corner.

The spiritual portion of these programs always makes me uncomfortable, because I don’t know the religious ad-libs. You know when they play “Sweet Caroline” at a bar and most people automatically add the “BA BA BA, SO GOOD, SO GOOD, SO GOOD!”? Well, that seems to happen at funerals, but instead of “BA BA BA” it’s “Amen” and “Praise his name.” The priest spent most of his time telling two seemingly random (and fictional) stories: one about a missionary couple and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and another about a 7-year-old girl with leukemia. It seemed like both of these stories were really convoluted ways of getting to the point that God is benevolent, heaven is your true home, etc. I felt the most at ease when the “Our Father” finally came up—I know that one from Boondock Saints.

I was doing fine until something happened. Something I never could have anticipated. Something that made me behave inappropriately at a memorial service.

Early on in the ceremony, during a pause in the priest’s monologue, someone audibly farted.

I heard it reverberate off the squeaky wooden chairs we were sitting on. It was unmistakable. I could tell by the echo that for once my boyfriend wasn’t guilty. I looked around the room to see if anyone was shifting in their seat or turning red in mortification, but everyone was solemnly listening to the holy man up front, clutching tissues and being devout. I could see in my peripheral vision my boyfriend was visibly shaking in an attempt to quell an outburst of laughter. I tightened my lips in vain, covered my mouth, and stared down at my knees. I tried everything. I even thought about the heartwrenching Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial, but nothing could stop be from reacting to the person who broke the silence by breaking wind.

I had no choice but to weep, not for the loss of my boyfriend’s sweet, generous aunt, but to cover up the fact I was hysterically laughing at an untimely fart that fired at the worst possible time.

The religious ceremony concluded, more tears were shed (appropriate ones), and gradually wake attendees started saying their goodbyes. My boyfriend wandered up front to say goodbye to his sister and offer some acknowledgement of the flowers, but before he got the chance, his sister took the flowers and left the wake. We learned later that she asked my boyfriend’s cousin if she could take them, so their true intention will remain a mystery forever. Who takes back flowers that were addressed to someone else? Was she mad he looked at them and didn’t immediately thank her? Did she regret sending them? We’ll never know.

Fortunately, we didn’t leave without flowers! After leaving her unwelcome perch on the family only couch, Lynn was pawning off flowers and food onto wake attendees. I saw her take an angel statue she brought, peel the price tag off of the bottom, and present it to my boyfriend’s cousin. Then she presented my boyfriend with a large vase full of roses.

“Nnn-no-now you can use this vase for every holiday! Empty this vvvase and fill with flowers for the hallllidays.”

I realize the urn-like piece next to the flowers looks like an urn, but it's actually just our normal centerpiece. No one's ashes are in there.

I realize the urn-like piece next to the flowers looks like an urn, but it’s actually just our normal centerpiece. No one’s ashes are in there.

After overstaying her welcome, Lynn finally left, and along with the sister flower mystery, we may never truly know the status of her hair. I still think it’s real.

It may have been an odd mixtures of celebrations, but at least we got to be with family and friends and remember a special lady. I may have also secured my place in hell, but at least I’ve had some interesting experiences.

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