Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In which my friend Ilene makes sure my dead grandmother is made up appropriately for heaven

Those of you who read my other blog (this is the double-secret-probation blog that only certain people in my life are allowed to know about, although non-relations and blog friends old and new are very welcome) have already seen this story, but I'm lazy today.

I push through the chattering crowd to the coffin. My grandmother lies there, still, a rosary laced through her clasped hands. She has a ring on almost every finger and her long nails are perfectly painted crimson. Eyeshadow, rouge, lipstick. All tastefully done. She doesn’t look bad for a woman of 96.

But something is wrong. I stare, trying to figure it out.

Her lipstick. It is a tasteful, pale, soft, barely-there pink.

I have never seen her in tasteful, pale, soft, barely-there pink in my entire life.

Imagine soft pink lips pursed around a Virginia Slims held between red-tipped fingers. Letting loose some choice words as the owner, clad in her new fur coat, slipped and fell on the calf manure covered tailgate from Uncle Butch’s cattle truck that my dad and his cousins had dragged onto the sidewalk as a Halloween prank. Drinking a beer straight from the bottle. Praying for a safe journey as she touched the little St Christopher statue on the dashboard on our way to Shopko so I could spend the dollar she gave me. Reading The National Enquirer at the grocery checkout.

You can’t.

Those lips have to be red, red, red. And not a tasteful red.

The funeral home had obviously not known my grandmother.

I call my cousin, my sister, my mother and my aunt over.

“Look at her lipstick! It’s all wrong!”

Aunt Pat agrees. “When I cleaned out her room, I found 12 tubes of lipstick, all red. Dark red.”

We decide we have to do something.

“Does anyone have any red lipstick?” I ask.

We all dig into our purses.

My friend Ilene triumphantly yanks a tube of red from her bag.

We pause as we think about the next step. We have the lipstick, but do we have the will to put it on a dead woman? Is it appropriate to touch up the makeup of a corpse? What if we get in trouble? Could the owner touch the lipstick to her own lips again?

“Grampa Al won’t know her without her red lipstick,” my mom says.

It is essential.

“I’ll do it,” Ilene, a pediatrician, says. “I had to touch dead bodies in med school.”

When Ilene finishes, Granma looks just like herself. She can rest in peace.


  1. I love stories about people making the body look the way it's supposed to. My ex said they whipped out a comb at his dad's wake and reparted and fixed his hair. Then they all laughed which eased the tension.

  2. What a fantastic story, and really what a way to honor your grandmother. She probably went on her way to heaven after you put the red lipstick on her. This story makes me want to pay attention to the details while people are alive. Here's to red lipstick. Thanks for telling the story again!

  3. There was nearly a brawl at my great-grandma's casket. She had her glasses on. Who puts glasses on a dead person? My grandfather and one of his brothers didn't like that. Their sisters and the other brother said she "didn't. look right without them." They argued about it for two days. Loudly. Finally, they are about to close the casket, my uncleyells out"Wait!" He jumps up, runs to the casket, yanks off Big Gramma's glasses, and drops them in the casket. He turns to all of us and says "I just can't stand the thought of my mama spending eternity in those glasses!"


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