We Have Always Been Able to Say Goodbye

Steve Wishman
August 19, 2020

I just read this heartbreaking look into the life of a funeral director—a collaboration between Reveal and The Nib.

It reminded me a lot of the revelation that I had at my godfather’s funeral, which I wrote about in strip #040 of How Mom Died: "Funeral for a Friend". Funerals are not just for honoring the deceased. They’re also a space where grieving families and friends can begin to process their loss.

Click HERE for the full size comic

The last funeral I went to was just before this pandemic had hit our country hard. Restrictions had not been imposed yet, and thankfully none of us got sick. It was an open-casket funeral. I had not been to one of those since my Nana died when I was in high school. For many years, I thought I would never view a body again, but at this recent funeral I felt it was worth spending time with a corpse, like Caitlin Doughty might recommend. I was one of a small minority in the crowd who did this, other than immediate family members.

The experience was profound, to say the least. Sensations of “uncanny valley” came over me, and strange optical illusions happened. My brain would produce these impressions that the eyelids or fingers were about to twitch or move, because they were supposed to. This was my friend’s body but it was not my friend anymore. There were no micro-expressions. No subtle signs of life. My brain attempted to overlay these expected signals and the result was weird and transformative.

Today, I understand the process of viewing the deceased, and this comic presents some food for thought in regards to the toll it may take on our culture to be denied this opportunity. Even commiserating with family and friends takes on a different pallor when done over an internet connection.

These are troubling times.

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Steve Wishman

Steve Wishman is the founder of Zen and the Art of Caregiving, and author/illustrator of How Mom Died, a webcomic/memoir chronicling his experiences as a caregiver for his mother at the end of her life.