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I slept for a couple of hours from 4.30 to 6.30 am on what I anticipated to be the longest day of my life. I dragged myself out of bed and started to get ready to go to the hospital for the 11 o’clock appointment with the people from the funeral parlor. I was supposed to go there to attend the washing and dressing of my Mom’s body and the placement in the coffin. I was very worried and felt apprehensive about my reaction to seeing her in such a state. But there was nobody else, so I could not delegate. I gritted my teeth and set out on my grim task, armed with one of her favorite dresses.
This time I had a driver, at least I was spared the hassle of driving myself. I had called one of the nurses who had looked after her during our previous stay at the hospital and asked her to please come bathe her, and she agreed right away. I got there and the funeral people were there. The hearse was parked in front of the morgue and a few men standing around. A few minutes later the nurse came bringing with her another and went into the chamber where the fridge was. The man in charge opened the fridge, brought out my Mom’s body and together all three moved her onto the concrete table. I heard running water and only then noticed a large sink and some large red plastic buckets being filled. The man left the room closing the door behind him. Then one of the nurses switched on a recording of a mass, and they both started unwrapping her body. I expected a shock, but nothing happened. I just stood there watching. I noticed that the nails on the hand nearest to me were blue. But other than that she looked asleep. The girls were very efficient and very quick. A very thorough wash including her hair, a very quick thorough rinse and finally very careful drying. Then, with a bit of difficulty they got the dress on, the stockings, and finally a beautiful white silk robe with a hood that could be pulled down to cover her face. They then opened the door, asked for the coffin to be brought in, had it placed on the floor next to the table and transferred her into it. A beautiful dark shiny wood with golden handles and a golden cross on top, lined with white silk and lace. She looked beautiful, like a hooded bride in all this white.
The caretaker came in and on the instructions of my brother’s Office Manager, swept the floor spotless. The coffin had been lifted to the table with the lid off, waiting for the arrival of my brother. A few minutes later my brother and his wife arrived, took a look at her nodded and left. I then headed for my car and was surprised to find a lady employee of my brother jump in and say That she hoped I didn’t mind giving her a lift, I said of course not, and off we went back to the apartment. The weather was beautiful. A clear sky with a bright sun, a slight cool breeze and absolutely no trace of the dust and sand of the past couple of days. I was still surprised at my reaction to what I had anticipated would be an ordeal. I was totally blank. I had not cringed at the sight of her body, I felt completely empty. The one thought that crossed my mind was: She is not there.
I got back to the apartment in time to see the finishing touches of the drastic cleaning it was given, and to receive and pay for the food ordered for lunch. Then my brother called for me to get to the church as there were already people there waiting for me. I remember getting into the car with my friend and I think someone else, I cannot remember. The church is literally around the corner from the apartment and we were there in less than two minutes. When I got there I saw a crowd of my friends and neighbors waiting inside the front gate of the church. I was greeted with a lot of hugs and felt their emotion, but I was still numb. We finally climbed the front steps of the church and I went and stood beside my brother to receive the people coming to attend the funeral mass. The church filled up quickly and I think it was as near to 1 pm as possible when the church bell started pealing and the funeral people took out the closed coffin, came up the stairs and went into the church, with my brother and I following the coffin and some other members of the family following us. We took our places in the first pews, left and right and the prayers began. The alter was covered with white wreaths and decorated with white flowers covering the coffin and on two large stands at the back of the alter. A large cross with my name on it hugged the coffin from the front.
Hearing the mass for the dead triggered such a feeling of loss in me that suddenly, without warning the floodgates of tears opened and would not stop. Right throughout the mass I cried and cried. That was Mummy up there, she is gone and I am never going to see her again. My heart ached and I could actually feel it twisting in my chest. Finally, mass was over and we followed the coffin out of the church, taking up our positions again at the door to shake the hand of every individual who had come to pay their respects to our Mother. I saw a large number of familiar faces, some surprised me for I had not seen them in years. But during that ritual something very strange was happening to me. I felt the pain and grief draining out of me. Like the pinnacle of grief was reached in the church, but at its door it was all draining out, leaving behind a strange feeling of peace. By the time all the people had left the church and we started to get into the cars, four people scrambled into the car, so I sat up front next to the driver, at least this kept me a bit apart and I did not need to get into the conversation taking place in the back. I wanted some quiet time to examine that strange feeling I had. Wasn’t this supposed to be the most difficult day of all? But up till now the most difficult part had been the church mass.
Cairo at that time of the day and in the middle of the week is practically impossible with the congestion of traffic. The cemetery is a few kilometers away from the church, in the old part of the city, it is attached to an ancient church of Mare Mina. We got there in record time, the trip was unbelievably quick and smooth. The facade of the cemetery is beautifully kept, of old stone and very impressive. They opened the large doors for the hearse to go in, but all other cars had to be parked outside the gates. We got out and walked in a very short distance, then to the right and our plot was to the left. Cemeteries here are built above the ground, a large empty room at the end of which is a small window at ground level, when opened showing another large empty room underground. The coffin was lowered down through that window and was received by someone on the ground who moved it to the extreme right and then climbed out. The room quickly emptied and only my brother and I, his wife and someone I don’t know were left. We each said a prayer, under our breath, then my brother bent over and padlocked the window. We turned around and left. The trip back was as quick and easy as the trip out and the whole thing was done in just one hour.
Some friends and cousins came back with me to the apartment, we brought the food out and people started eating. For the first time in a long time I felt hungry. I ate a couple of sandwiches and drank plenty of water, but was starting to feel faint and quite dizzy. The pharmacy around the corner was called and they sent someone to take my blood pressure. This time it was so low, I really thought he had misread it. We called another pharmacy for a second reading and it turned out to be the same. To today I am suffering from hypotension! A few minutes later it was time to leave for the church again to receive all family and friends coming to pay their condolences. I got there and went into the hall reserved for this. It was beautifully decorated with white flowers, like the church was this morning.
My brother and his wife arrived a few minutes later and he came in and asked me to come stand with him at the entrance of the hall to greet all those coming in. In between greetings and introductions my brother was teasing me with all sorts of funny remarks about the length of time I had written in the obituary telling people how long we would be there. He kept repeating: Four hours, you sadist! You will have to stand next to me for all those four hours. It has been a very long time since I had felt that close to my brother. It was a good feeling.
Two hours later I abandoned my post as I had to go sit with the people who had come to pay their respects. A very mixed crowd of old and young, family members and friends, old acquaintances and new friends from Facebook, ex colleagues and old school friends, neighbors from the old house and from the new. A very diverse crowd indeed, but all with kindness in their hearts, love and respect for my Mom and a real feeling of deep loss for the passing of such a lovely person. Those who knew her personally were deeply touched, and each had a little anecdote or incident by which he remembered either her kindness or her humor and joie de vivre. A real and true tribute to a wonderful, beloved, grand lady. It was more a joyful celebration of her life than a sad mourning of her death. By ten in the evening I was near exhaustion and finally we went home. The long day was over, I thought, till around 11 pm the bell rang and in came my brother’s Office Manager and the lady from finance, laden with white flowers and filled out the apartment with flowers. A beautiful ending to a much feared day that turned out to be much easier, and with even very warm feelings that made it special, and far less painful than previously feared.
I got into bed, physically exhausted, but spiritually comforted and feeling light and relieved that my Mom is no longer in pain. I shall not think about my missing her, there is enough time, for the rest of my life for that, but for tonight, suffice it that she is now in a lovely warm, joyous, peaceful place with all her loved ones who had preceded her. The day was much easier than anticipated because she was there watching over us all, giving energy to all that was happening so that everything went smoothly, easily and with very little pain, and towards the end with even a feeling of peace and maybe even joy. God bless you Mom, you will always be a part of me, you will always be alive in my heart and in my memories.