Thoughts about Funerals

Last week, I talked about suicide and the victims left behind. This week, I’ll talk about funerals. I don’t like going to them, but then, who does.

I went to a funeral for the first time when I was 16. My grandmother passed away, and I was sucked into the events that followed. I never cried for her. There was too much going on. The hustle and bustle of visitors, people bringing food, relatives coming in (many of which I’d never met), and the adults gathering in small circles was constant. Having never been through the process, it was all new to me. I was on the sidelines watching the action. Then at the cemetery, after the ceremony and everyone began going back to their lives, I saw my beloved grandmother’s casket there, waiting to be lowered into her final resting spot. I turned to my other grandparents and broke out in a ugly cry reminiscent of a Mary Tyler Moore episode about Chuckles the Clown. Only this wasn’t funny. I hung on to my grandpa, sobbing my heart out. I know I embarrassed him, the oil field roughneck who wasn’t used to having girls cry on his shoulder. My remaining grandmother quickly rescued him and I finished my cry on her shoulder. I don’t know why my grief picked that particular moment to come out like an overdue geyser, but I embarrassed more than my grandfather, but also my mother and dad. And myself.

Two years later, I went to the funeral of my roughneck grandfather. Since I had my drivers license and our family car was a huge Chrysler Newport, I was designated to drive all the grandkids to the cemetery. That came only after a long grilling asking me if I could handle myself and that job. They didn’t want any more scenes like I’d caused the last time. I said I could do it. I hated that Newport. It flooded so easily, then it wouldn’t start. My brother and I knew how to get it to start. Open the hood, take off the air filter, and hold the choke open. We did it all the time. After the last prayers were said, a bunch of grandkids piled into the huge Newport and I turned the key. The whine of that starter sounded out like a foghorn and the care wouldn’t start. I got a slight whiff of gas. It was flooded. I asked my brother to get out and hold “the thing open,” but when he opened the door, the other mourners pushed him back inside and said they’d take care of it. They lifted the hood and dinked around with all the stuff under there. I rolled the window down and said it was flooded and we just needed to hold the choke open. I was ignored by all the men gathered around trying to help out. My cousins were hollering and I was yelling out the window. It was chaos. My brother attempted to get out again, but was pushed back and told they’d take care of things. After a seemingly hour-long debate, my brother was finally able to get out and do what we always did. The car fired right up. The men gave a cheer at their success. I was mad at the car and embarrassed so much by the attention that I could hardly hold my head up. When we finally got back to the house, our parents came running out, wondering if we’d been in some sort of accident on the way home.

At one funeral, I was in the middle of a crowded church in a crowded pew when a bad panic attack hit me. I had to get out of there. I crawled over a bunch of people to get to the aisle where I thought I’d be safe. On my way out, I tripped and hit a door to the bathroom and it flew back and hit the wall. The bang sounded as loud as a gunshot and likely made people jump. I was appalled by my clumsiness and lack of poise.

Those are not all of my bad experiences at funerals. Twice I was asked why I was there by other mourners. That made me feel out of place. Thankfully, most funerals I went to, I didn’t make a fool of myself (although it takes a lot of effort on my part) and people don’t mind me coming.

I don’t think I want a funeral. I’d rather have people gather in places to talk about me and the memories we made together. That’s enough for me. My attitude comes from something I’ve heard my dad quote from a poem by an unknown author. “When books are closed and the last prayers said, And we become one of the countless dead. Thrice happy if some soul can say, ‘I live better because she passed my way.'”

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