Yesterday, I attended my first funeral of the New Year. Tom was a member of one of my “families”: head usher for one of the other teams at 9:30 Mass. I did not know Tom well, but he was a good guy, and he was, as I say, “family”.
It was important to attend.
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I am at the age where this kind of occasion will be common this year. Death will choose who, how and when…. There will be different names for the event, as “memorial service” or the like; and they will be in differing settings.
Tom was about eight years older than I am; most of the observances I’ve attended or acknowledged have been for persons younger than I am.
These events are really for the living, all of us heading for this destination, however we try to slow it down, or avoid it altogether, or be “forever young” as some TV ads promote.
We’re all on the same train, with the same destination – only at different times, perhaps different circumstances. “You can’t take it with you” comes to mind.
In Tom’s case, there were a goodly number of family and friends in attendance at the Church.
And the eulogies were, as they always seem to be, instructive to those sitting and listening; and entertaining too….
When it comes down to the last public appearance, attention seems drawn to the small things contributed by the deceased to the community, which usually centers, its seems, on “family”, a term with varying definitions.
Perhaps it is because I’ve rarely been to such services for the “high and mighty”, I don’t recall hearing tales at these events of acquiring great riches or “power” in some other context. Rather, more common is how this person or that was a contributor in some small way to the family circles of which he or she was part.
And, make no mistake, everyone has their story.
Some years ago, I came to be the representative of my brother-in-law, the unmarried last survivor of his family of origin. He and I were friends, though we lived over 300 miles apart and were in contact seldom. Ultimately his life went south; he lost his house, and then his mobility, and then lung cancer closed in for the kill…succeeding November 7, 2007, age 60.
Mike was a person who, in most of his adult life, would be considered the odd person in his town. He mused about where it would be best to be homeless. He had no friends, to my knowledge. I was about all he had.
When death circled ever closer, and Mike gave me power of attorney, I inquired of the local funeral home as to whether Mike had any final requests on file with them. They had handled his mothers funeral in 1999.
They sent me a brief letter from Mike, dated March 19, 2001, in which he said this: “…I have decided that I would like to be cremated. As for the ashes, maybe you could bury them between my mother and brother’s graves…As far as any funeral service, that would be nice. However, I doubt if I would have more than two or three people attending. I guess I am kind of a lone wolf….”
Mike got his wish, and he wasn’t far off in his prediction. As I recall there were about seven of us at graveside when his ashes were buried on a chilly afternoon near Thanksgiving 2007.
One of the seven at graveside was one of the teachers, now very elderly and frail, who Mike had had in high school (class of 1965). She made a point of complimenting him as a good student. Her biggest compliment to him was that she showed up on a very chilly late November day to recognize that he had lived.
A couple of weeks after his death, the residents at his final home, New Horizons Manor in Fargo, met to recognize his life. There were probably 30 or more in attendance, mostly elderly or severely disabled. Few knew him. He had lived there only a short while, to the end, a “lone wolf”.
But his was one of the most wonderful memorial services I have ever attended.
We are born and then we die.
In between is “life” and in the end, it seems to me, all that really matters are the small things, the things of supposedly no consequence, that are remembered at rituals of departure.
POSTNOTE: A book (and movie) that I highly recommend: The Book Thief, narrated by Death, see here and here.