I went to a funeral today.
The funeral was for my friend P’s mum, who passed away last week. For all intents and purposes, let’s say she died of a broken heart; P’s dad died at the end of January, and I guess some part of her mum couldn’t go on without him.
A number of things struck me today. First of all, I called my own mum just after I got home, just to hear her voice. P’s mum got very sick very quickly, and toward the end of her life, she was unable to communicate. I guess there’s some comfort in the idea that she lingered on Death’s door long enough for her children to say goodbye, but I felt sorry that we spend so much of our family time not saying stuff. When I called my mum this evening, I wanted to tell her that I’m happy she’s my mum, and that she is an incredible inspiration to me, in many, many ways.
I chickened out; we had a nice chat, we made each other laugh, and we made plans to make plans later. Maybe that’s enough – if not, I know she’s reading this, so, Mum, thanks for being you.
It also struck me how ritual is business and business is ritual. We engage in ritual all the time. My kids, for instance, have a bedtime ritual: pyjamas, pee, hands and face, teeth, story, song. We began this bedtime tradition years ago, because Colin was a difficult sleeper and the ritual helped. Now, the ritual is so firmly established that if one step is missed or misordered, we’re all thrown off.
Is a funeral, then, our last bedtime ritual? We’re dressed appropriately, cleaned up, there’s a story and some songs, and if we’re lucky, there’s someone there to give us that last kiss goodnight.
I chauffered one of the grandchildren to the grave site; G is one of the first of my friends’ kids that I’ve watched grow up from infant to adult. He’s a great guy, even if he did try to change my radio station. We talked on the way about the funeral, and about his grandfather’s funeral five months ago. When the events are that close together, you really see just how pre-fab it all is. Same stories. Same songs. We also talked about his future (he’s starting college soon) and it just now occurred to me that it’s awesome, in the true sense of the word, that we can casually flow from a critique of a funeral to a discussion of the pros and cons of studying science (pro: great job opportunities con: um, wait, I’m sure I’ll think of something).
I’m rambling, I know, but there are so many impressions and thoughts… for instance:
~ It’s truly amazing how brothers and sisters can be so different, physically, philosophically.
~ When does one get to the stage where one makes definite plans for one’s burial/cremation/scattering/whathaveyou?
~ Do the officiants get bored? I mean, it’s bad enough that you can recognize the speech at a funeral as the one from a funeral a few months ago; imagine saying the same speech, probably more than once a day.
~ Why are urns square now? Aren’t they supposed to be, well, urn-shaped?
~ Just as a point of etiquette: if you work as a chauffeur for a funeral home, whose job it is to drive the grieving family to and from the grave site, it’s not OK to overhear the deceased’s children discussing the family home and offer to hook them up with a real estate agent.
Betty, I hardly knew you. But your daughter is one of my dearest friends, and she’s a very good person, no doubt thanks to you and Archie. That’s a pretty good legacy. Rest in peace.