It's strange and off-putting to talk about your dead aunt with a person wearing Minnie Mouse ears. I learned this on Halloween night.
I was sitting uncomfortably on a stool in the smoking patio of my go-to neighborhood bar, dressed as a '60s mod version of the Bride of Frankenstein. The control top underpants, thick layer of costume makeup and rickety stool weren't the sole sources of my discomfort. I was sitting there, a single 31-year-old dressed up for Halloween, drinking at 6 p.m. in a nearly empty bar. I felt like a recently divorced, middle-aged dad rocking a fresh ear piercing.
Just as I was looking to push the eject button and head home to Netflix and my Hitachi Magic Wand, my sister's name popped up on my phone. My stomach suddenly sank. It can't be good. As my best friend Michelle says, "Anytime a family member actually calls I assume someone's dead. Otherwise they'd text." I answered. Our tia Raquel died. We had to tell mom.
I went home, washed off the Franken-makeup and headed to the hospital where my aunt's lifeless body was laying in an ER. She had been sick, but her passing was very sudden. She feared hospitals, dreading the possibility of never leaving and that's just what happened. We don't all get to die warm and old and surrounded by those we love, or mid-orgasm, sandwiched between two ripped soccer players, as I envision one day meeting my end. We die how we die, and there's usually no telling how that's going to go. Yup, this column is gonna be goth as fuck.
One thing about death is that it can have moments of humor and absurdity. People react to death in fascinating ways. The recent news story about the homeless Chinese woman falling asleep and never waking up at a Hong Kong McDonald's, laying there lifeless for 24 hours before anyone thought to check on her, is sad and telling of the way our society behaves around certain people—but also total clickbait. Ten people I know shared that story on Facebook, accompanied by a McRib joke or the like. People die. We're all going to die. Quick, make a joke before I freak out.
There, at the hospital, we surrounded my aunt's body while trying to understand what happened. A nurse dressed as Minnie Mouse discreetly wiped cupcake frosting from her lip and provided some insight. They'd have to move her before her body started to decompose. Cool. Thanks, Minnie. Enjoy your cupcake.
My cousins got into an argument over whether my aunt's body had started going cold.
"She's still warm," said one wistfully.
"No, she feels cold to me," replied the other one, placing his hand on the curve of my aunt's neck.
They then proceeded to grab at my dead aunt, arguing back and forth in growing intensity about the temperature of her body. When it was clear no one would be stopping this, and my aunt's body was starting to rock from their repeated temperature checks on different parts of her body, I sheepishly interjected. "Hey guys, umm, does it really matter if she's, umm, warm or cold? Either way, she's, umm, gone." They turned to me with a glare and I slowly backed out of the room so they could continue their pointless argument.
A nurse not dressed as a beloved Disney character came in to snip a lock of my aunt's hair as a memento for her son. A distant relative made a joke that my aunt did not want a haircut. We smiled respectfully, but as the nurse's scissors sliced into her hair we heard a long, loud moan. My eyes widened, my heart skipped and I slowly turned around to see a cousin standing solemnly behind me. Another cousin met my eyes and we burst out laughing, and couldn't stop.
In Mexican culture, death is both feared and revered. You honor your dead. You prepare for death by being a good person, loving God and by having a priest bless you before you bounce out of the planet. That's how you get to heaven. If you're good but godless as I am, people express deep concern for your soul. Regardless of your culture, the fear of death has a major impact on the way you live your life. That's why people YOLO, or whatever.
At the hospital, I remembered that scene in Moonstruck where Olympia Dukakis says men cheat on their wives because they fear death. And I thought about how in some way everything we do is because we fear death. Despite YOLO being a stupid acronym, you really do only live once and while we canít know what happens to us after we die, we can control the legacy we leave behind. My tia Raquel leaves one of a funny, giving and feisty adoptive mother who loved baking and covering her small apartment in sunflowers. It might be modest, but itís important to those who loved her.
I don't believe in heaven. I mean, if I have a choice in what will happen to me after I die, I'd go with heaven, or haunting my best friends by making their vibrators go off in the middle of the night. I don't have that choice as far as I'm aware, but I will work on my legacy. That I can do.