A Shining Star at Every Wake
Bill hates to go to parties but he loves to go to wakes. One of the advantages of being old, he says, is that there are fewer parties to go to but a lot more wakes.
At parties he finds a distant corner, stands there like a sentinel and watches the young folks have fun.
“At parties the young move among each other like bees among flowers,” Bill says. “When I was young I tried to find the right flower and hover there, if you know what I mean.”
Although he doesn’t approach anyone to start a conversation, Bill’s not upset when people approach him. Some young folks want to know why is the old guy standing in the corner. And he doesn’t hesitate to tell them.
“I came with my wife,” he says. “She’s out on the floor somewhere having a good time.”
Moments later, he adds the obvious: “She’s an extrovert and I’m not.”
At parties Bill and his wife always slow dance at least once even though he says he has two left feet. He says that after 50 years of marriage, his wife’s used to having her feet under his. He says she never complains. She loves parties and is happy that he’s willing to come along, even if it’s only to stand in a corner.
At wakes, however, Bill comes out of his shell. He’s in his element at wakes.
“I’m the life of the party at a wake,” Bill says, “if you’ll excuse the expression.”
His modus operandi at a wake isn’t complex. First he consoles the bereaved and then talks to anyone and everyone who has come to the wake. When Bill has finished his rounds, everyone, even the dead person’s kin, feel a little better.
“Bill should have been an undertaker,” his wife says, coming back from the dance floor.
Bill says he would have been an undertaker but in most states you have to be an embalmer to qualify as an undertaker.
“Embalming is not a trade I ever wanted to learn,” Bill says. “But I don’t have to be an embalmer to help people feel a little better at a wake.”
Several years ago, a friend of Bill’s lost his wife and Bill, of course, went to the wake.
He was talking to the widower when a lady walked up, interrupted them and said to the widower,
“I know you’re not ready to date, but when you are so inclined, I would like to throw my hat in the ring.”
Bill and the widower were shocked, but later the widower dated the woman and married her. In a relatively short time, she spent most of his money and then divorced him when he got sick. He died a year later very much alone.
Had Bill known his friend was sick, he would have tried to supply him with support. He has great empathy for the dying as well as for those mourning the dead.
Going to wakes reminds Bill that some day he will be the guest of honor at his own wake. He has mixed feelings about that.
“I don’t know if there is ever a perfect person for someone,” Bill says, “but my wife is the only one for me.”
He thinks it’s selfish to want to die first but that is his wish. He doesn’t want to live without his wife by his side.
“She’s my North Star….my compass,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to dance on anyone else’s feet.”
Donal Mahoney, a product of Chicago, lives in exile now in St. Louis, Missouri. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chicago Tribune and Commonweal. Some of his online work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/
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