Funerals have a very unique purpose, don’t they? Not only do they let you pay homage to someone who’s no longer here, but it’s a chance for old friends and acquaintances to come together again, for family members to draw closer and lose grudges, to see old friends, find new ones, and hear stories. Old stories they’ve heard so many times. New stories that surprise and comfort.
When my dad died, his funeral served as the launching pad for my niece’s relationship with a young friend of mine I’d watched grow up at church – he’s now her husband and the father of my great-nephew. What a cool living reminder that there is much good that can come from something that seems so tragic.
But today, I am attending the visitation for my ex-sister-in-law – my niece’s mother. At the end, life wasn’t easy for her; cancer’s got a mean streak. I have dreaded going. Honestly, it was a bitter divorce so long ago, and those kinds of moments don’t slide easily away. I don’t want to intrude but yet I want to support my niece. What will my ex-sister-in-law’s family say? What memories might I stir up? Most of all, it will be the first funeral home visit since my mom died. And as an obvious “empath,” I have a hard time not taking on all the emotions that fly around. I’m not eager to experience any of that.
But here I am. And standing here watching my great-nephew zip around among everyone, I find myself standing in the exact same room so many years ago when my great-aunt died. I can so clearly see my niece – she would have been about the same age as her son is now – shrieking her way from the back of the room to the casket along with her cousin, slapping their little hands against the smooth metal, then racing back to the rear, only to turn and giggle their way with abandon to the casket where my great-aunt lay.
Great Aunt Jo, she would have approved, you know. That’s the very essence of life, there – right there – at a funeral for the dead. What a juxtaposition of concepts! What a contrast! It forces us to acknowledge that life goes on … it can and it should and it’s right to race, and laugh, and giggle, and be irreverent.
Insight, as sharp as a surgeon’s knife, cuts to the heart of it all, and I am humbled beyond belief. My fears are all about me. (What will they think? What memories will I stir up? How will it affect me?) How selfish, I think. How self-focused, how small of me to allow those fears into my psyche.
They say funerals are for the living, really, not the dead. What they mean by that statement is that funerals comfort the living. But I think perhaps it’s not really so much a comfort as it is a reminder. Life must continue to be a joyous journey. We celebrate, not mourn. We see the absolute joy of living that children instinctively know, and we must grab it and hold it tight and breathe it into our hearts and hold it there forever, and remember. Always remember.