Yesterday I had to go to a funeral. I realize that’s a downer of a statement to start a blog posting with, but there you have it. I went to a funeral. For some reason, funeral attendance has been a common topic among some of my friends lately. Maybe it’s because one of us is riddled with cancer in over half of her body. Maybe it’s because an acquaintance passed away ten months ago and her loss is sorely felt every day.
Many of my friends have said that they have only been to a funeral, maybe two, in their lifetime. I can’t say that. I think I go to about three a year, and at least one (if not all three) are for family. Y’all, my grandfather had 14 brothers and sisters. My grandma, who came from the smallest family, had seven. They all lived into their 80s, but lately we are losing a few every year. And funerals, in my family, are not always a somber event. They are frequently turned into parties, reunions, potluck picnics, and get-togethers. When my Papa died seven years ago, my great-uncle (nana’s brother) left early because he had a headache. Turned out to be brain cancer over 60% of his gray matter. Three weeks later, my pseudo-grandma (and nana’s best friend) had a massive heart attack at her grandson’s football game and passed away. Six weeks later, nana’s last remaining brother also passed away. So in three months she lost her husband, two brothers and best friend. That side of the family was thrilled we’d seen each other four times in three months, but hated the reason. So we started planning a reunion every summer just because–and hopefully not having a funeral to see one another.
All that to say that funerals don’t faze me. I consider it a matter of respect to the person that has passed to go to a ceremony or service that celebrates the person that lived, the soul and spirit of the departed, and to laugh and share memories of the loved one. And bonus if they were a member of the church, looking down from the right hand of God and smiling at all of us remembering good times while he lived, knowing that one day we will be reunited.
Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a great, great man. He was an elder in the church of my youth, and always good for a kiss, a hug, and a laugh. His petite wife, a darling woman, was there by his side every day. He’d been in hospice for almost two years, but only after having a stroke last week did the end seem near. Blissfully, it was just a few days before he passed. Married for 64 years, he had three children. The boys went into the ministry, the youngest into the wilds of Africa with his second-generation missionary wife. The service was a remembrance of the man, the father, the church elder, and the beloved man.
The service had a brass band playing. No somber choir or soloist here. The son-in-law of the deceased is a member of the orchestra (or something like that) and arranged to have the quintet playing. Each of the nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren walked in a processional, carrying a long-stemmed red rose that was placed in a vase on the altar. Then each of he three children got up to say some words about their father.
That’s when it started to get uncomfortable for me. Not because of the words they said, in fact, I was envious of the things that they shared. They had such a close relationship with their father and had the blessing of a man who was incredibly involved in their lives, a man who raised them and participated in their lives, and meant so much to them that they had small stories to share that had every one of us cracking up with hysterical laughter.
But the worst was when one of the ministers got up to read a letter that Cliff had written to his children. It was the man I remembered. To the point, it addressed each of the three kids, and said something specific to each of them that had all laughing. It was full of advice, reminiscence, wisdom, and love. It was absolutely beautiful.
And that’s what was so hard for me. I have a relationship with my father. He is 65 years old. He isn’t the greatest father in the world (his own words), but he’s the only father that I have. While each of Cliff’s children got up to speak about the joy that was life with their father, I kept thinking that the man I give that title to has been largely absent from my life, not really there when I need him, and rarely around to even speak to. As I have gotten older, things have improved–mostly because he’s the king of text messaging. It’s impersonal and brief. Just like dad.
But more disturbingly, I don’t know of anyone that could say anything remotely close to that regarding my father after his demise. He is not an easy guy to know. He is not always nice. He isn’t funny. He’s not caring, nurturing, or loving. He’s a cold-hearted, calculating, conniving soul if you want the truth. And I hate to say it but I’m not even sure I would have a lot to say about the man in that sort of circumstance. Would I be upset if he were to pass? Of course. He’s my father. I might even be a bit more upset as he is also one that has walked away from the church, denying all faith. So I know that when he dies, he is truly gone from me. But I don’t know if I would truly have much of a loss to mourn, as any involvement he has in my life is restricted to conversations regarding his mother, quick conversations about the weather, and wondering if he is going to stop by my brother’s house for dinner when I’m in town. We don’t talk much. Not for lack of trying on my part, but there is only so many times you can hit your head against a concrete wall before you get a massive headache and stop.
I spent a lot of time last night upset about this. I miss what my father could have been, had he only ever had an interest. I miss the relationship we could have had, given the opportunity. I miss the role he could have had in my life, if he only ever cared enough to take it. He left my life over thirty years ago, and while he is present as a family member now that I’m an adult, it’s not as a parent. More of a distant blood relative that I get along with on occasion.
So after witnessing the joy that was the service and celebration yesterday, I want to say this: Lee, Craig, and Sharon: You are and were greatly blessed. To have such a loving family surround you and support you all your life, and to recognize how special that was while you had the chance is a great gift. I loved your father so very much, he was such a great man of God. He did you all well, and you have made him so very, very proud. I am so very sorry for your loss, but you know that somewhere he is waiting for you to join him. In the meantime, he is finding a wig and using a funny voice to entertain hordes of children in heaven. And if that doesn’t work, he’ll be there with a kiss, a hug, and a laugh. God bless you all.