When I was young and death was this thing that was so seemingly far away — I could make blanket statements like, “The only funeral I will ever attend, will be my Grandfather’s” It made sense to me at that very young age because death was something mysterious, and slightly gross, and terribly frightening. A virus so to speak, and that to acknowledge meant to be infected with it. I cannot explain why I didn’t list my mother on that list, unless I somehow suspected her of being immortal. I stuck to that statement into my adult years.
I believed, in my overly dramatic fashion — because of the grand importance my Grandfather played in my life, that he must be as important, as loved and as liked by everyone. That his death would command a very stately event. Mourners across the county lines would attend, and there I would stand, draped in black, stoic for the man I loved so much. Instead he died alone, in a sterile nursing home environment after a very long battle with Alzheimer’s, 700 miles away from me. He wouldn’t in those last years of life — recognized a soul who came to show him respect in death.
I found out in adulthood our family simply doesn’t acknowledge death. Death is a slightly irritating door-to-door salesman knocking on the door. Just ignore that incessant knocking. That buzzing of the bell. If somehow the Salesmen of Death was able to slip in and get what they came for, we ignored it. No funerals. No wakes. No services of any kind. Nothing. Nada. I learned this with the first death of my family, my Aunt. I awkwardly inquired about services with my devastated mother a couple of days later. A funeral? My mother looked at me with her sunken eyes and said there would be none. It puzzled me that simply nothing would be done. Doesn’t family usually do something?
The 90’s were incredibly rough on our small tightknit family. First was the abovementioned Aunt. She was the oldest of three, and honestly she was my second mother. Next was her father, the grandfather I stated above. No huge funeral. No stately affair. Just a phone call to my grandmother who happened to have flown all the way to California to visit her granddaughter (me) and great-granddaughters, only to find her husband had died in his nursing home, while she was in mid-flight. No rushing home. Arrangements had already been made, like a pre-arranged car wash. The body would be picked up, taken to the mortuary for cremation. It baffled me how everyone in my family reacted, but when in Rome. Next was my own mother, and thankfully her little sister, my younger Aunt was around to handle things, because I hadn’t a fucking clue. Emotionally, physically, anything.
Don’t get me wrong, we grieved, but we didn’t memorialize. I think it was our way of never admitting it happened.
Anyway, this wasn’t meant as a litany of family deaths, but moreso about funerals. Up until that point, I realized my refusal to attend a funeral was childish. I couldn’t hide from death. I couldn’t thumb my nose at death. Or do any other childlike, frightened action to keep me from the inevitable funeral. I realized that while for some the funeral is a chance to say their goodbyes, it’s also a respect given to the living. To the bereaved. To the survivors.
Surprisingly enough, with family dropping like flies, my first funeral wasn’t a family affair. We did end up losing a cousin a few years later, but by then I got it. We don’t do funerals. Or services. Or memorials. We cremate and move on. My first funeral was less than ten years ago when we lost a riding friend in a tragic accident in Glamis. It was Catholic. It was open-casket. It was every single thing I was terrified of in a funeral, and while on a scale of 1-10 of knowing this friend was a lower number, he still impacted me and my family greatly. His surviving family impacted me and my own. I could not, not attend. I needed to show my respect to the living if nothing else.
I survived it and have since then gone to a few more funerals. None less sad. I don’t pass an open casket; some of it residual childhood horror, and the other part is my need to recall them as the vibrant alive person I knew. I cry. A lot. These events blanket me for days before and days after, even the ones I might not have known as well. Death is a sadness, and funerals are closing that door. It doesn’t seal the sadness away, but I believe it acknowledges something. Everything around me seems a tad greyer for a few days. A little quieter.
I’m attending the funeral of a good friend’s father next week. I had spent some limited time with him – the holidays last year, and had an immediate fondness for him. He had this sense of kindness and humour about him. Soon after that time together his daughter sent me a sort of autobiography he had written and asked me to read it. Give her some input and let he know if I could polish it up for her. The writer in me loved it. I could immediately flesh out characters in this little Nebraska farm boys story. The reader loved it more, because the tale was so sweet, so truthful.
While I knew him little, and liked him very much, I am attending this for her. To show her the respect. To show her the love I have for her, and to be the friend I hope to have at my side when needed.
And maybe, just maybe — thumb my nose at death just a tad.