I've been to more funerals than weddings in my life which sort of strikes me strange at my age. 49's not so old. It's after 2 AM and am having a restless night after spending a good part of my day at another one yesterday.
Death is a funny thing. We all know it's going to happen. But there's something about seeing a casket that can still take your breath away. Especially when you know who's inside.
The first one I ever attended was for a friend's grandmother in my early 20's. She was like a third grandmother to me and lived on the corner of my block. It was an open casket. I remember walking up the aisle to view her. The orange makeup-y face is forever burned in my mind. I gasped and broke down in tears. (No one else did. Not even my friend cried that I remember.) My friend's mother helped me stumble back to the pew.
It wasn't until 10 years later when 4 of my relatives died one right after another. First my father. A year later my grandmother. Then my other grandmother and a week later my uncle. Funerals were starting to feel like old hat.
Yesterday was for my aunt's sister. No blood relation but I knew her for most of my life. We all knew it was going to happen. She'd been battling an awful cancer for the past 2 or so years.
Haven't been in a church for quite some time. The church I was in yesterday was one I grew up in attending Mass at for most of my youth. Not much has changed. Same pews (though now they seem much smaller. Or did I get bigger?lol) Same lighting. Same kneelers. (though my knees are not the same and had a hard time teeter tottering back and forth. Were they always that flimsy?) It felt good being there,though, even under the circumstances.
The one thing that wasn't the same were some of the words of the Mass.
It's amazing how those words stick in your mind. I haven't been to Mass in ages but somehow knew all the responses. Thought I did,anyway. But here and there I noticed my responses were a little different than other people's. But I said them anyway. Because that's how I learned it.
It was a little disconcerting. Kind of like when I found out the priest who gave me all my sacraments as a child was no longer a priest. Like something was taken away from me. Guess you never expect any changes when it comes to religion. Should we?
What was wrong with the old words? There were subtle changes, just a word here or there but enough to make me feel like a stumble bum. Enough to rattle me up at 2 AM in the morning to write about.
Guess that says something.
Another thing was my aunt and the man sitting next to me grabbed my hands when we went to say the Lord's Prayer. Yes, we were all holding hands and after the prayer they were saying some other responses I didn't know and lifting my arms up further at the elbow.
This new interactive Mass made me feel like a stranger in my own land. Not that there was anything wrong with it. Just threw me off guard. Made me feel like I was from another time, another place. Was this still a Catholic church I wondered.
Shouldn't have let myself be so distracted by all that. After all I was here to pay tribute to someone, pay my respects and to comfort my aunt who sat next to me. Who made me cry with her tearful outbursts during the ceremony. For her loss and pain. For knowing she'll never see her sister again in this life.
I remember her being at my father's funeral. She came to me in tears after it was over when I had none. They came later. But during his my eyes were dry.
He died right here in my family room where I am sitting now. My mother came into my room that night and said, "I think dad's gone." We walked over to the hospital bed that had been delivered just a few days before. His eyes were half opened, a half smile frozen on his face. I touched his arm. It felt stiff. Tried to close his eyes but couldn't get them to stay shut. He must have been gone for awhile but my mom just thought he was sleeping. His robe was opened at his chest and I remember how bony it looked. But I didn't cry. I felt relief that his suffering was over. Through it all, though, he never complained once.
But yesterday my tears flowed freely. It's that music that gets you. And feeling my aunt's pain. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose my sister. But in this life you never know what can happen when. You just know that it will happen.
I never understand why after a funeral people get together to eat. Who really wants to? Walking into the reception was another shock to this "old school", outdated girl. Tables full of people eating sandwich's and bean salad, cookies and cake. Drinking punch and coffee. I know it's all part of the protocol but still...it's hard to eat with an eyeful of tears and a lump in your throat.
Yes, funerals can be hard to swallow.
But we have to. We need to.
And they're not so bad.
Sometimes they can be very peaceful and moving. Sad? Always. But think about this...what other time in life do you get to hear and say all the good things about a person?
Most of the time I don't think people hear one word the priest says. It's one of those events your mind picks and chooses what it wants to remember.
Certain images will always stay with you.
Like the ghostly face of my friend's grandmother. Like my father's casket just sitting there in the chapel in front of us looking so hard and cold as the priest droned on. Like the "hear a pin drop" total silence except for the gut wrenching sobs of my aunt's sister's husband yesterday as they placed her coffin in the wall.
Sad? No. Heartbreaking.
Now please pass me another tissue....and some of that bean salad.