Bouquets of roses and daisies stand on either side of the casket. The left half of its lid is open. Overhead, eight-inch stained boards slant toward the crest of the ceiling. The Cypress View Chapel looks to seat 200 mourners in its pews, but now, except for my edgy presence, it is empty. I sit in the middle of the right bank of pews and wonder how I will proceed.
After a while, I approach the man in the casket to pay my respects. Dark-rimmed glasses perch over his closed lids. He appears to have been in his 70s, and elevated behind him in the casket lie what must have been favorites of his, a beige jacket and blue cap with the word "Paris" on it. The man's hands fold together on the lower part of his abdomen. They have a look of abiding strength, as though they could still twist one of the tools he once used in his long career at Subic Bay, the Philippines, as a Navy heavy-equipment mechanic. Nobody is looking, and I have an urge to touch his skin. But the event this afternoon is called a "viewing," and I am a stranger to the deceased.
Out in the lobby, the chapel attendant tells me about the long and beautiful loose-fitting shirt the man wears. It is peach-colored and embroidered in a pattern of small flowers. "They call that kind of shirt a filipina," he tells me. But I ask a friend about it that evening. He says that "barong tagalog" is the more traditional Filipino name for the shirt, which is made from the leaves of the pineapple plant.
Suddenly 10 to 15 people are walking into the chapel's foyer. Among them is an elderly woman clinging to a boy's arm and facing straight ahead in a sedated stare. She walks slowly toward the chapel's open doors. I see, too, a bouncy, smiling fortysomething woman who has a take-charge look.
Not wanting to lose an opportunity through hesitation, I quickly approach her. After verifying that she is the deceased's daughter, I tell her I want to ask a few things about her father.
"Are you writing another obituary that costs money?" she inquires with some hostility. Apparently relieved at my denial, however, she agrees to provide information at a later time. As I start to write her name and number on a card, she says, "Here, let me write it." She gives me back the card, which I put in my shirt pocket without looking at it.
Later I inquire into the prices for an obituary in the San Diego Union-Tribune, where I first saw information on the deceased, including this viewing and a funeral Mass scheduled for the following morning. It is $7.25 per line, and a photo counts for ten lines.
While waiting for the arrival of others this afternoon, I walk toward the mausoleum section of the building. There, on both sides of a long hallway that ends in a stained-glass window, are written the names of the dead who stay there, sometimes in containers of ashes that look like vases or books and sometimes in coffins stashed into the walls. On the outer faces of many crypts, one sees a last name above, with a first name below on the left and an empty space on the right for the name of a spouse in the future. One marble face, twice as large as the others, grabs my lingering attention. It identifies a man and a woman, aged 28 and 27, on the left, while on the right, the lettering spells the names of a boy, 2, and a girl, 1.
Upon returning to this afternoon's viewing, I glance at the card I took minutes earlier. The deceased's daughter has written only her name on it. There is no phone number. A quick call to directory assistance confirms that her number is not listed. Already feeling like the invader of too private a moment, I take this as subtle communication. It seems to tell me, "Not only have you barged in here uninvited, but you are so rude as to bother us too." For the next funeral service, I resolve to take a different approach.
A few yards beyond the entrance to Glen Abbey Cemetery, as the hillside rises up, you come to a fork in the road. Arrow-shaped slats with people's names on them point you toward the funeral or burial you are seeking. Not long after you've gone up one road, another set of slats narrows your search further. The nameplates slip in and out of ridged metal rails that hold them to wooden surfaces. Tomorrow a new set of names will be on the boards.
At the right side of the curving road I take stands the cemetery's Little Chapel of Roses. Nearby, a woman in her 40s irrigates the lawn and some flowers near one of the graves. In a can with a spout, she carries water to the gravesite from one of the faucets on the grounds. Looking for directions, I ask her if she works at the cemetery.
"No," she says. "The sprinkling system doesn't reach this far, and the ground around my mother's grave gets dry." It turns out that she performs this filial duty for her mother each weekend.
On the other side of the chapel, photographer Darlene Platt sets up her camera on a tripod. She asks me whether a service is about to occur in the chapel shortly. She would like to take pictures inside it. I am surprised that she is a wedding photographer and will shoot a wedding in the chapel the following weekend. People can get good deals on weddings at Glen Abbey, she tells me, after recollecting a $50,000 wedding she worked several weeks earlier on a yacht. In addition to funeral advisors, Glen Abbey has a wedding coordinator too.
I ask Platt her opinion of weddings held in a cemetery chapel. "I was thinking about that earlier," she says, "and most of the people who end up here were married and had families. So it's a good place to have a wedding, because the dead will be cheering you on."