I attended a funeral yesterday. As I sat there crying alone in nearly the last row in the dark auditorium it occurred to me that it was the very first funeral I’ve attended since yours 4 years ago. And this wasn’t just any funeral… I was there to support a friend who just lost her brother to suicide.
I knew going would bring up a lot of terrible things for me and I was pretty worried about how much it might set me back in terms of my own healing. But the thing is, as hard as it was for me to do, I would do it again in a heartbeat. So many people don’t “deal with death well” or “don’t know what to say” or are “uncomfortable at funerals” or simply don’t go because they didn’t know the person who passed. But I’m not one of those people. I remember exactly what it felt like to be sitting in that room as we mourned your death and I was so grateful for each and every single face I saw, whether I recognized it or not. It meant the world to me to see so many people there that might not have even met you but they cared enough about us to come and offer support by just being there.
I didn’t know this man who passed but yet I mourned so deeply. I mourned for the sadness that drove him to take his own life. I mourned for my friend grieving the loss of her brother. I mourned for the wife and young daughters he’s leaving behind. And, I mourned for you all over again because it reminded me of the things you never had the chance to experience but that I wish you had. I have often been sad that I never got to see you get married to the love of your life or have children or find a career about which you were truly passionate. As I watched the slide show, I saw photo after photo of a man madly in love with his wife and his daughters and who had found true joy in his career; I wished that you had found those same things for yourself while you were here. Though I’m not naive enough to believe that the outcome would have been any different; after all, this man had all of those things I desired for you and it still wasn’t enough for him to overcome his own darkness.
During the service a number of his friends got up to speak about him and it got me thinking that I wished we had done that at your service. Through the stories they told they painted a picture of a caring, loving and absolutely hilarious man who made a room immediately better just by walking into it. Looking back I honestly don’t remember if we didn’t have people speak because we didn’t ask or if there just wasn’t anyone who wanted to do it; I do wish now that I’d have spoken but at the time it really wouldn’t have been possible. I was far too devastated to gather my thoughts let alone get up to present them to a crowd. But as I sat there last night and listened to the stories and learned about the man my friend called her brother for 44 years I smiled, laughed and cried with everyone as though I had known him for years.
It’s funny how your perspective on death changes as you age and experience different kinds of loss. I vividly remember being so angry at Grandpa Don’s funeral in 1992; I was a senior in high school and you were a junior. That was my first taste of true loss– the death of someone to whom I was close and it hurt so much. I was in so much pain yet I looked around at the adults who were laughing and carrying on and I thought, “how can they be so cruel to laugh at a time like this?” But now I look at the ability to share stories that make us laugh and remember the wonderful times as healing and that was one of the most beautiful parts of last night’s service– all the laughter.
After the service was over I stayed in the back waiting for a break in the flow of the crowd to approach my friend for a hug before I left. As I stood there alone, puffy-eyed, still choking back vigorous waves of tears a couple who had been sitting nearby were glancing in my direction a number of times and, just before they left, the gentleman made his way to me. He placed his hand on my shoulder and asked if I was going to be alright. He said, “you’re all alone up here and you look pretty sad, we just want to make sure you’ll be OK.” Seems like a simple gesture but having just experienced the emotional upheaval of the previous 90 minutes, all alone, I was so grateful for having been acknowledged in that room full of strangers. Random acts of kindness are pretty wonderful.
As soon as I mapped out a relatively open path to my friend I made my way down to her and we just hugged and cried for a long minute. No words were needed, really. She knew I shared in her grief and I recognized that she shared in mine as well. I wished so very deeply that she didn’t have to experience the agony that I’ve just spent the past 4 years trying to escape. Because you really can’t escape it, Brian. The best thing I’ve done for myself has been to just allow the feelings to be there and accept them and let them run their course. You just have to go through it to get through it, you know?
I left the auditorium and continued to sob and struggled to catch my breath on the long walk back to my car… I was so overwhelmed and just physically exhausted. Grief is a funny thing… for something that is so emotional, it can also make your body absolutely hurt all over.
I can’t say if my being there was helpful to my friend or not… but I do know that I couldn’t imagine not going. It’s just so important to have people that care about you at a time like that– even if no words are shared, there is so much to be said for the healing energy you feel from just the presence of others whose intentions are to help you share the pain for a while. I felt that at your funeral and still vividly remember a moment during which I felt so loved and supported– I can’t quite put it into words but as I looked around the room at your service it literally felt as though my spirit was being lifted up and cradled in the arms of everyone there. I am certain I’ll never find the words to describe how wonderful that moment felt.
On my way to work this morning the events of last night still weighed heavily on my mind and I was doing my best to convince myself that I would make it through the day in one piece. Then I got another little sign from you, Brian. Of the two pennies I received back in change at the McDonald’s drive-thru (you know, for my daily dose of Diet Coke) one of them was a 1975 penny– again, the year you were born. I hardly ever see them… so I’m taking this one as a sign that you knew how hard last night was on me and that I was in desperate need of a little bit of a reminder that you were there with me. I was needing that reminder… and I’m grateful.