"Mourning the Departed" by L. Annette Binder

He’s what you might call a “professional funeral attendee.” He funeral-hops as a hobby, mourning the random deceased he encounters. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Mexican or a Filipino funeral. So long as it’s not a Korean one.

This is the tragic main character of L. Annette Binder’s fall 2008 story, “Mourning the Departed.”

What may seem like a quirky hobby turns out to be anything but as details from this unnamed man’s past surface through the course of the story. His distaste for Korean funeral food takes on a sad dimension when we find out he’s a Korean War vet. And his wife Evelyn’s battle with Alzheimer’s adds yet another layer of tragedy to his story:  He is mourning the living—the loss of his wife to her dementia—and the closest outlet he can find is through actual funerals.

Binder’s depiction of the disabled war veteran is brutal but delicate. She shows him limping, with burned feet that need soaking in Epsom salt. He is stoic despite his sorrow, unable to release tears. What might trigger the dam to finally burst?

A short and affecting piece, “Mourning the Departed,” was the fall 2008 Carver Contest 2nd place prize winner.