Reliable Witness

Reliable Witness

What it Takes to be With Your Clients to the End

By Barry Jacobs

September/October 2007

The daughter fingers the small glass-beaded necklace around her mothers neck and says, Her granddaughter gave her this one. Touching the delicate gold watch around her mothers stiff wrist, she says, This was an anniversary gift from my father years ago. After attending a dozen such viewings of deceased clients in the last few years, I know what question will come next. Doesn't she look good? the daughter asks me with a sidelong glance.

I look at her mothers body in the crushed-velvet interior of the mahogany coffin, head uplifted by the satin pillow at what, if she were alive, would be a wrenching angle. Shes in her Sunday best, with her face powdered and rouged more than Ive ever seen in the past 10 years. I respond with the requisite, Yes, the undertaker did a great job.

I suppose he did a great job of sorts, but I wouldn't say she looks good. Her skin appears taut and overinflated, and her eyelids look glued shut. Even when I saw her two weeks before, in the hospital in her last days of cancer, she still looked like a haggard version of herself. Now she looks like something else--a stone-still totem of herself, festooned with jewelry and religious medallions and too much makeup. It seems to me shes too much made up in all ways--a ruddy-cheeked object of her family members fantasy, rather than the depressive, often cranky, 70-year-old woman she was. This is her but not her, and the difference adds to the sadness I feel about losing the complex, feisty woman…

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