Yesterday, I attended a funeral. It was a man I had never met, but I am friends with his daughter and her family, so to pay my respects to them, I attended. This was an older man; he had children and grandchildren, had been in hospice for two years, so the death was not unexpected. Some might go so far as to say that it was one of those deaths that was really a blessing. It doesn’t make me like funerals any better. They make me cry; I guess this is better than the alternative, because my other outlet for strong emotion is laughter, and that would be inappropriate in this situation.
The recently deceased was a family man, and a veteran who was very active in his community and veteran’s groups. The funeral home was surrounded by and filled with men in uniform, many of them from “The Greatest Generation”. Once the funeral started, these men stood at the back of the room, silently paying tribute to their fallen comrade. The pastor who gave the eulogy was the deceased’s brother-in-law, and the love and loss that he was feeling were evident in his voice – or lack thereof – at certain moments. It was a touching tribute. On a side note, I guess it is a sign of the times that we live in that there should now be an announcement to please turn off cell phones before the ceremony begins, as no less than four phones went off – and continued to go off until they rang themselves out – during the funeral.
I cried at the beginning, and then when the pastor got into the eulogy, I was able to control my emotions. At the end of the ceremony, however, it was a two-tissue moment. Each of the veterans who attended walked up to the display (as this man had been cremated, there was no casket; there was an urn, a photo of him in his military uniform from his time in Korea or Vietnam, flowers, and a flag) stood at attention, and paid his final respects with one last salute. Some of those salutes were as crisp as I would imagine a young recruit giving in basic training; others were soft and gentle, almost a wave contained in a salute. All were precise. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.
As family prepared to head out to the cemetery, I headed home. I think that graveside ceremonies are intimate, the last chance for the family to say good-bye, and as such I don’t feel I belong unless I am a family member or close friend. In this case I was neither.
As I think about the day, I begin to reflect on what it is about a funeral for a person that I never met that makes me cry. Certain things frequently make me emotional, not always in a sad way, but they bring tears to my eyes. Marching bands, high school graduations, the National Anthem, and videos of unexpected heroes are all on that list. But the funeral? Why did it make me sad if I never met the person. Well, first of all there is the obvious: someone that I know has lost someone that they love, and that is sad.
But beyond that, it makes me think of the mortality of myself and those I love and hold dear. I am in my mid-40’s, and though I feel that I have another 40+ years ahead of me, nothing is guaranteed. I have a group of friends that is also of the same age, and I worry about them. Lastly, this was a funeral that I attended because a friend lost a parent. I lost my dad when I was 21; my mom is a three-time cancer survivor, and assuming she has the good outcome we expect from her current diagnosis, it will be four times that she has survived the big C. I know that at some point, if things go the way nature intends, it will be me saying goodbye to a parent, but I just am not ready to think of that time yet. I don’t know that any of us ever really is.
So, I make sure to say “I love you” to the people that matter to me, make memories that will last a lifetime, shed my tears when it hurts too much to hold them in, and laugh a lot to balance it all out.