While the differences between love and hate can be blurred and difficult to decipher at times, the dichotomy of denial and acceptance are much more distinct. One is halting and aggressively rejects all truth, while the other is more passive and at peace – welcoming whatever truth is in waiting, whether fortunate or tragic.
Driving back to the hospital, Felona happens upon Schnell & Sons Funeral Home. Compulsion leads her to stop to consult about burial services so she would have an idea of what to expect after her mother dies.
Funeral home. I wonder why they call it that, she ponders. It’s neither a funeral nor is it a home.
A smiling man and the sound of a chime greet her at the door as soon as she enters. The man is short, pale-skinned and portly while his hairstyle is reminiscent of a tanned and plastic Ken doll.
“Hello. Welcome to Schnell & Sons Funeral Home,” he says with a distinct lisp. “My name is Jacob Schnell and I’m happy that you stopped in today.”
He chuckles nervously while clasping his hands together and leaning forward as if in mid bow.
He continues, “Something tells me that you’re not here under happy circumstances, though. How can I be of assistance?”
Felona nervously smiles back.
“Hi, Jacob. My name is Felona Mabel and my mother is very ill. The doctors don’t expect her to make it past this week. I wanted to see if…”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” he interrupts.
“I wanted to see if you could tell me, in advance, what services you offer so that I can better plan –”
“Her home going,” he completes her sentence.
Felona shakes her head, mildly annoyed with being interrupted.
He continues, “Here at Schnell & Sons Funeral Home, we’re committed to giving you the highest level of service during your time of need. We offer full service so we will take care of everything. Comfort, quality, and care are the three attributes we maintain during our service to you and your loved ones. We’ve been serving the community since 1973. May I give you a quick tour of the facilities while I tell you about what we have to offer?”
He waves his arms widely as a magician would before introducing his grandest act.
“Well, this area you’re standing in is where all of our waiting guests relax. You see we have comfortable seating, lots of reading material, snacks, coffee, and a flat screen television.”
Felona frowns, thinking, Why would I want to relax in a funeral home? Unless I’m dead, relaxing isn’t really optional.
“You look concerned. Don’t be. A lot of people think that the luxuries we offer are unnecessary, but we at Schnell & Sons believe that a loved one’s home going should be as comfortable and stress-free as possible. Now, if you’ll follow me.”
He leads her down a dimly lit corridor that features several framed pictures of men and women stiffly posed, staring coldly at passersby.
They enter a much larger room that is empty, except for a collection of folded chairs on one side of the room. The floor is linoleum, gray and lifeless, contrasting starkly with garish, illuminated stained glass windows that flank an elaborate podium.
“This is our banquet room where all of our services are held. This room is equipped with advanced lighting technology to provide subtle-colored lighting to illuminate the final appearance of your mother. Music services are provided via our large database of pre-recorded music or we can provide live musicians. Music has been proven to bring comfort to our guests during services and we can provide whatever style of music you desire.”
Felona nods, forcing a smile.
Jacob leads her back into the corridor and they pass several other empty rooms similar to the previous one, before coming to a brightly lit showroom full of open caskets.
“This is our showcase room featuring our casket and vault collection. We offer many different sizes, colors and customizations that might fit your mother’s personality.”
“Beautiful,” she says aloud, not realizing it, as she runs her fingers along the satin that’s inside one of the caskets.
Jacob turns to her proudly with his hands clasped together, smiling. “They are a work of art. It’s almost a shame to bury them, but what a lovely memorial to create of our loved one as we see them for the last time.”
“I’ve never considered how death could be made to be… beautiful,” Felona says in astonishment.
“Death is inevitable for all of us. While you will miss your mother when she’s gone from here, the memories retained of her should be made beautiful.”
Felona looks away thoughtfully while Jacob continues, “Our caskets can be customized to help create that memory that you would like to capture.”
He points to a closed, brushed metal casket with ‘United States Marine Corps’ spelled out and its logo engraved in the center. He then gestures to a less dignified and baby blue, pearlescent casket that is open. The interior is crush velvet pink with quilted padding and shiny, gold buttons throughout.
“Wow. Pink and blue,” Felona responds. “Somewhere right now a pimp is on his deathbed comforted with the fact that his most desired resting place awaits him.”
Jacob chuckles nervously.
“What things does your mother like to do?”
“What?” she asks, puzzled.
“Does your mother have any… hobbies or belong to any organizations?”
Felona looks down and scowls.
I’ve never thought about my mother from the perspective that she might have likes and passions. All I’ve known is that I wasn’t one of them.
“She was very active with her church,” she finally looks up and says.
“That’s wonderful. Did she sing in a choir or teach children? How was she active?”
Her scowl returns.
“Umm… my mother and I haven’t been that close in the last few years. I don’t live here now and we….”
“Oh, I see. That’s no problem. Not a problem at all. We’ll figure that out later.”
Felona nods and turns her attention to the long aisle of caskets. As she walks, she carefully studies each one, running her fingers along the sundry of textures and finishes.
Which of these containers would best suit my burying my mother’s ugly past in? she mulls.
A hint of delight accompanies her as she takes in the smells and appearance of lacquered oak and new linen.
“What are these for?” she turns to ask, pointing at a display of assorted vases.
“Those are vaults,” Jacob, who has been following behind, answers. “Or as most people know them, urns. If you decide to have your mother cremated, these vaults would contain her ashes. As you can see, they come in a variety of elegant styles and finishes.”
“Oh, wow,” she says, unaware that her fascination is aloud or that she’s smiling. “How long does it take? The cremation process?”
“Well, state law requires that we wait two days before cremation. Would you want a viewing before the cremation?”
“A viewing?” she frowns.
“Yes. Some families need a visible sense of closure so we also provide that type of service previous to cremation.”
“I’m not sure that my mother wishes to be reduced to a few pounds of ash and put in a vase, but the idea is enticing to me,” she says as she places one of the urns back on the shelf.
Again, Jacob chuckles uncomfortably at what he surmises as Felona’s dry sense of humor.
“What are these for?” she asks, holding up a deck of what appears to be business cards.
“Those are prayer cards. On one side is typically the twenty-third Psalm, but we can accommodate whatever inscription you’d like. Prayer cards are given to guests during the memorial service as a keepsake. On the other side, there is usually a picture of the one being memorialized.”
“Prayer cards, urns, pimped out caskets, and waiting rooms. Who knew that there was so much to planning a funeral? You really do offer a litany of services.”
“Thank you for saying that,” he smiles and bows.
“No. Thank you for taking the time to educate me. Planning a funeral is almost like planning a surprise party.”
Jacob stammers, “Well… that’s… one way to look at it. I–I guess, it is like that in a way. You’re planning her going away party.”
Felona smiles and nods, “Yes. Exactly.”
“We would love to help you.” He bows again and hands her a card and pen. “Why don’t you fill this out with all of your information and we can send you a packet with more details and pricing so that when you’re ready, we can make your loved one’s transition much easier on you and your family.”
The faint ringtone of her cell phone interrupts her attention.
“Excuse me. I’ll be right back,” she says as she fumbles through an oversized handbag while walking away.
“Hey, bella,” Vin greets on the other end. “Are you okay? How are things going there?”
“Vin! Hey. Things are going okay. I was just about to leave the funeral home and head back to the hospital.”
Felona makes her way back to the lobby to walk outside.
“What?! Funeral home? Why are you –? Oh no. Felona, I’m sorry.”
“No, Vin. It’s not like that. I’m just being proactive so that I know what follows. Did you get the message I left earlier?”
“Uh, yeah. I saw that I missed your call, but I was in a meeting. That’s been my whole day so far. I didn’t take the time to listen to your voicemail. I just called you back instead.”
“Well, you know how I like to stay busy. I can’t just sit around in a hospital room waiting for something to happen.”
“Are you sure you’re okay? You sound strange.”
“Strange? I’m fine. What do you mean?”
“You sound… happy.”
“Should I sound depressed to hear from you, mister? I’m just trying to be like Ny and see the positive side of this. In all honesty though, I’m numb. The doctors will be removing her from the respirator today and then it’s just a matter of waiting for her to die. How are things going there? How did your meeting go?”
“The meeting went better than expected. We’re officially acquiring Brisbane Properties, but since they were already in Chapter 11 negotiations, we will be inheriting fewer of their liabilities than we thought. The court will ultimately decide what we’re responsible for, but in short, we had a huge win and guess who the new VP is going to –”
The call drops.
Felona looks at her phone to redial Vin, but it rings before she can do so.
“Vin? I’m sorry about that.”
She looks at her phone and immediately realizes that she must have accidentally answered an incoming call from Tobias instead of redialing Vin.
She sighs, “Tobias, what’s going on?”
“Hey. You sound better than you did last night. A good night’s rest must’ve helped.”
“Tobias, what’s going on?” she repeats.
“You know how last night when we were talking about your mom and you got angry about my trying to tell you what to do? I thought about that afterward and I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I had no right to try to tell you how to manage your mother’s business. I mean, it doesn’t matter what we do, God’s gonna intervene and do what he wants to do, right? Whether we’re right or wrong, God’s gonna do what he wants.”
Felona opens her mouth to respond, but Tobias keeps talking.
“Hasty decision or not, miracles happen all the time. I may have had my string of bad luck, but I’ve still been witness to miracles in my life. I mean, I saw more than my share of bad situations when I was stationed in Iraq, but –”
“Tobias, stop! Jesus, man! Can you save the dissertation please? What’s going on? Was there a purpose to your call or are you just calling to chitchat? Because if you’re just calling to chit chat, maybe you should let me in on the conversation too.”
“I’m sorry. What I’m trying to get to, Felona, is that you were right. Your mom was very weak, hooked up to those machines for all that time. But she didn’t even wait for the doctor to remove her from the machine. She took control of her own fate by the hand of God. She did it, Felona. I’m at the hospital right now and I wanted to tell you personally before the doctor called you. Your mom passed –”
And the line goes dead.
Summer has always been known as a time to explore and get lost in adolescence, but for Felona, the summer of her seventeenth year yielded the consequence of her youth’s greatest indiscretion.
And with it, she felt alone. But that was nothing new. She seldom got any degree of emotional support from her mother, yet she would still seek it.
The outcome was always the same, though – mangled pangs of abandonment and betrayal.
“I’ll be back in an hour,” her mother informed her as she dropped her off in the parking lot of the abortion clinic.
There weren’t many cars in the parking lot and a lone, middle-aged man in a security uniform stood guard at the entrance. He took a long drag on a cigarette and nodded hello at Felona as she rushed past him to go inside.
A loud melody, akin to a doorbell, chimed as she stepped into the waiting room. Everyone who was seated looked up in unison and studied her in silence as she made her way to the reception area.
After listening to Felona’s answers to the same routine questions that they, themselves, had to endure under scrutiny, her audience resumed their previous activities and conversation, satisfied with this unspoken initiation of shame.
Felona wanted her mother to hold her hand in the waiting room and tell her that everything was going to be okay. She was afraid of what they would do to her. And even more so, of going through it alone when she didn’t want to have an abortion at all.
She looked down at her feet to avoid trading glances with any of the other girls there. She was afraid they would see through her and judge her like she secretly judged them.
When she would steal occasional glimpses of the room, she saw girls of varying ages. Some were older women. The girls with younger faces appeared normal and unaffected. They were carrying on conversations with others, while a few were just staring into silent space, holding their stomachs as if to hide their shame or somehow connect with what was inside before saying goodbye.
There were two guys, both older men, who were there. They were seated alone, probably waiting for their counterparts to return from the back… emptied out.
Felona found out that she was pregnant at the end of her senior year in high school. Even though she understood the basic principles of sex, she was perplexed because she’d only had sex one awkward time and it didn’t seem like something that would culminate in a life changing event.
After much guilty deliberation, she finally told her mother, knowing that she would be disappointed in her, but she thought at some point, motherly love and compassion would kick in. It never did.
She just flatly responded with, “If you have that baby, you’ll mess up your life like I did. You’re going to get rid of it. That’s the end of that.”
So there Felona sat, afraid and alone in the waiting room of the abortion clinic, waiting to “get rid of it” because she was, otherwise, too immature to protest.
Felona and Tobias grew up together and were in most of the same classes during their senior year of high school. They shared everything.
But two weeks after Felona’s abortion and sudden absence, Tobias finally saw her and asked, “Where you been hiding, Curlytop? You get a job you didn’t tell me about? I haven’t seen you in a while. What’s going on with you?”
“I’ve been… busy,” was all she said in response.
“Are you angry with me? You’ve been acting strange ever since we –”
It was all over her face that things would never be the same again. But Tobias had no idea when things changed or why.
She wanted to tell him, but was too ashamed.
They were best friends and shared everything… including their virginity.
Felona wanted to tell Tobias that her mother had forced her to have an abortion after she found out that she was pregnant with their child, but she couldn’t. She was afraid of how he might respond – of how he might reject her. So she left him before he would leave her.
And she felt more alone than ever.