Some thoughts on funerals, not particularly organized, and making no particular point:
Cause and Effect: I’ve been sick to my stomach all day now. The chicken, or the egg? I felt unsettled and ill throughout the service, but was I sick to my stomach because of the funeral atmosphere, or unable to appreciate the service because of my nausea?
Confusing: Why black for funerals, when it’s tradition to send flowers? We don’t send black flowers or flowers covered in black fabric, so why are we to send ourselves draped in black? Are the guests to be mournful, and the decorations lively, to de-emphasize the importance of the living, to pay respect to the dead, or simply to indulge the mourners’ feelings, the grief that says, “You are not allowed to have fun, or be colorful, because someone you loved is dead and it would be wrong.” Oughtn’t guests wear the colors they feel reflect the departed’s impact on their lives? Black for a solid soul, a grounding force, but red for a firebrand who leapt into every project with force that left observers reeling.
Odd: Sad music is depressing when joyful, and uplifting when mournful.
Puzzling: Why, at every funeral, is there one person there who none of the mourners seem to know or recognize? They peer at photos of the deceased with interest and hug the surviving family tightly, but as they turn away, the family whispers, “Does anyone know her name?” or, “Have you seen him before?” Are they funeral-surfers?
Amusing: The brother of the deceased takes his seat in a pew, waiting to greet guests. His cell phone rings. Loudly, audible throughout the chapel, “We’re conducting market research. We’d like to send you two DVDs, free of charge… do you have a few moments for a survey?”
Amusing, again: The twenty-something grandson of the deceased invites a friend to the funeral. The friend arrives, dressed identically to the grandson, down to the cufflinks and hairstyle. The women in the family giggle, but the young men don’t notice until it’s pointed out to them.
Presumptuous: The pastor rails against families who eulogize their loved ones with tales of a love affair with a sports team, a favorite vacation, or a hobby. He says it’s more meaningful to live a life heaping affection on family members than to define one’s life by season ticket holdings. I wonder who’s sitting in a back pew, drying her eyes and feeling hurt as she remembers a departed sister or brother who bought season tickets, every year.
Giggling through tears: The flag presentation ceremony, performed by two older men and one younger, wearing crisply pressed uniforms, perfectly rehearsed in nearly every detail. The youngest soldier;s role is to assist in the folding of the flag, and he tucks the edge just a touch sloppily as he hands it back to the soldier a few years his senior. The experienced soldier holds the flag to his heart, observes the uncrisp edge, and delivers it back to the younger soldier, who tucks the edge perfectly on his second try. Not a word exchanged, eye contact unbroken, ten seconds at most, but a moment of normality and humanity in an otherwise starched and flawless ceremony.
Upsetting: The grandson is smoking again. Doubtless, quitting is difficult while grieving, but didn’t the deceased quit smoking some years ago, and impress the importance of that choice upon his grandkids? Hadn’t said grandson quit a while ago, gone maybe two years without a cigarette? Why sacrifice that?
Touching: She had a stroke some months ago. She arrives without her husband, whose chronic condition prevents much travel these days. She’s flanked by two sons, and her third son welcomes her to the chapel. He’s son-in-law to the deceased, and she has, though limited by hip replacement, stroke, and arthritis, come to support him and his family. She uses a cane, and sons and grandsons flutter around her, watching every step for a wobble, ready to catch her and set her back on her feet. She doesn’t wobble. After the service, two sons help her to her car. The third is behind the wheel.