Working the funeral of a friend

This was not my original plan but it worked out for the best. I knew my husband would be “working” but I thought I would attend as a mourner. That status changed after I was handed my name-tag. There was a badge down at the funeral home with my name on it. I used it when attending funerals in a more professional capacity. Didn’t think I would wear it last Friday but I pinned it to my jacket.

So, it was official. I was “on the job”. Rode in the lead car with my husband and one of the assistants. The church was beautiful with magnificent stained glass windows. As far as I remembered, this was my first Catholic funeral. I walked in behind the casket and watched the preparations for the viewing in a room just off from the sanctuary. Time for one more goodbye.

Climbed back into the lead car to get the family. I stood next to the curb between the two limousines and watched the family members fill the cars. Then (what seemed like moments later), I watched these same cars empty. There was that wave of humanity again. People instinctively moving and I was one of them. I kept looking for somewhere to be (the outside door, right outside the sanctuary, just inside the church, near the viewing room).

Mourners streamed in and out of the room deeply moved. Selfishly, I wished time would slow just a little but it just kept ticking away. Watched one of the funeral directors and a couple of the assistants approach the casket and I averted my eyes. Did not wish to see the casket being closed that last time.

I stayed just outside the sanctuary with my husband during the service. Could see and hear everything and, once again, I experienced mixed emotions. To me, funerals represented a loss (a parting) but also a celebration of life and an acknowledgement of things to come. Now, one final destination and this journey would truly be over.

When I climbed out of the car at the cemetery, I felt a little lost and needed something to do. I asked my husband. He suggested moving flowers so that was what I did. I walked to the back of the van, grabbed arrangements, and placed them upright on the ground. I then picked one and walked across the grass. Kept looking up at the tent over the grave and down at my feet. Seemed like I traveled there in only a few steps but it must have been more than that. Walked back to see the pallbearers with the casket preparing to move forward.

Everyone flowed toward the grave. The family was seated. Time kept ticking again. The priests were finished. It was over. I walked back to the car with my husband.

This had really happened. I was never going to see my friend ever again. Time does not stop nor does it even slow down slightly. Life is so short.


Related Posts:
Saying goodbye at the funeral home
That last phone conversation
Attended my first Episcopalian funeral a couple of weeks ago…

Posted in Death, Family, Funeral, Funeral Service, In my brain, Life, Mind, Mind & Spirit, Mortality, Personal, Religion, Spirit. Comments Off on Working the funeral of a friend

Saying goodbye at the funeral home

Did I mention my husband’s business handled the funeral of our friend? Since the funeral home was only about 5 minutes from the house, it was no big deal for my husband to swing by and get me. Remembering the optimistic squirrel I witnessed just moments before, I chatted nervously in the car but sounded upbeat. My husband parked and we both entered the funeral home through the side chapel doors.

How many times had I paused at the open casket of someone’s loved one and said words out of respect? Hesitation this time. I purposely avoided the visitation on Thursday evening because I couldn’t deal with the thought of my friend in this new context of death. Now, it was Friday morning. I was so sure that the casket would have been closed by now but it was not. My husband passed and turned the corner. I slowed my stride, took a deep breath, and approached. Many mixed emotions. Satisfied that those who prepared her body had done a good job. Angry because whenever I needed to fuss at my husband about something, it would now be on my own. Happy that her beauty was still evident even after death. Sad that I would truly miss her.

Breathed deeply a second time and touched her hand. It was cold and suddenly my figurative “blurred vision” of the past couple of days snapped into focus. Still touching her hand:

Okay, sweetie. This is it. It was a joy to know you. I will miss you. I promise to take care of your friend [my husband]. Rest now.

I joined my husband in his office and talked until it was time to go to the church.


Related Posts:
That last phone conversation
Ever wonder about the optimism of squirrels?
Attended my first Episcopalian funeral a couple of weeks ago…

Posted in Death, Family, Funeral, Funeral Service, In my brain, Life, Mind, Mind & Spirit, Mortality, Personal, Religion, Spirit. Comments Off on Saying goodbye at the funeral home

That last phone conversation

I met my friend through my husband. She was so down-to-earth and real and honest. A ball of energy but not in some weird, hyperactive way. More in a radioactive way. Electrons would literally spin from the many orbitals surrounding her and enter yours. Theoretically, the addition of electrons should impact you negatively. No, the transfer was always positive and you would be a better person because of it.

That last phone conversation took place about 6 weeks ago. She was sitting in my husband’s office at the funeral home. Not sure what they were discussing but my husband called me at home and said she needed to speak to me. The next thing I heard:

What’s wrong with your husband?

I thought to myself:

Hmmm. Where’s that itemized list?

She was mad because my husband NEVER takes time off. I had nagged him for years and finally just let it go. (He’s a grown man, can make his own decisions, blah, blah, blah.) She had no idea and was fussing electrons a-flying. At one point she actually said:

Life is short.

Could not ever imagine that 6 weeks later, she would not be here. The words of our last phone conversation play over and over in my brain. I hear the lesson and I am a better person because of it. Life is short.

Posted in Death, In my brain, Life, Mind, Mind & Spirit, Mortality, Personal, Spirit. Comments Off on That last phone conversation

Ever wonder about the optimism of squirrels?

I was standing in the doorway on last Friday morning and noticed a squirrel in the yard. Since I’ve been on this planet for a number of years, I’m no stranger to outdoor creatures. Squirrels are cute. They scamper and scurry and always make me smile. This one seemed exceptionally energetic. It was springing through the grass as if on a mission. I soon discovered why. The busy little squirrel had a nut. The fascinating thing was the slight of hand it used to get it buried. Performing the magic trick quickly, it then stood there in a “ta-da” moment. I next expected the squirrel to take a bow but it joyfully bounded off instead. So, I then thought:

You have to be pretty optimistic to be a squirrel. Have to assume you will be around to possibly need that nut at a later date. Tomorrow is not promised but hey…just in case.

I found this particular squirrel to be so significant because I watched it while waiting for my husband to pick me up. We were to attend the funeral of a friend and, at that moment, I needed that little dose of optimism.

Attended my first Episcopalian funeral a couple of weeks ago…

My husband is Episcopalian but I am not. A bit of a mixed marriage. Will probably convert in the near future. Right now (and I’m sure part of this is because of my geeky nature), I enjoy being an observer. It’s interesting to compare and contrast what I see with what I experienced through my upbringing. Mostly, quite similar. Every now and again, there’s a difference.

Because my husband is an undertaker, I often hear descriptions of various services. The processional, songs, readings, prayers. That sort of thing. When he explains Episcopalian funerals, I am always fascinated by the concept of a pall. Every casket is covered so he speaks of it as the “great equalizer”.

Always just assumed the pall he referenced was dark, heavy, and velvety. Quite surprised, during the funeral I attended, to see this was not the case. The casket was transported to the front of the church draped in a light-colored, embroidered, linen-like covering. If I had seen this cloth in isolation, I don’t think I would have ever associated it with a funeral. I was moved by the idea that every casket would be handled in the same fashion.

We live in such a competitive society. People strive for an advantage. Some fight or even kill to get it. Some relish the thought of being “better than” equal. For what? The outcome is the same. Everyone will eventually die. You can’t talk or buy your way out of it. That pall reminded me of that. I attended the funeral of a good man who lived a good life. He will be missed. I can attempt to be a good person and live a good life. Hope that I also will be missed but in the end, I will also die. Everyone will eventually die.

Both the pall (and death in general) are great equalizers.

Posted in Death, Family, In my brain, Life, Mind & Spirit, Mortality, Personal. Comments Off on Attended my first Episcopalian funeral a couple of weeks ago…

If you had an incurable disorder, would you want to know?

Several years ago, I took a course in Human Molecular Genetics. I enjoyed the technical “science-speak” (replication and mutation and such) but also relished in the ethical conversations. One such discussion centered around the following question:

If through genetic testing, it was discovered that you had a disorder with no cure or no viable treatment, would you want to know?

Fellow students took turns attempting to answer an inquiry that seemed so final. Most wanted to know. There was a desire to have the information to organize lives. Things had to be put in order. Loose ends tied. I listened intently, fascinated by this peek into the brains and souls of classmates. When all eyes finally fell upon me, I hesitated for a moment and began to communicate in slow, deliberate tones:

I would not want to know. Yes, there is a need to “organize a life” and to “tie loose ends” but I should be doing this anyway. I could leave this building, cross the street, and be hit by a bus. Death is a certainty whether today, tomorrow, or 50 years from now.

We (humanity) continue to put thing off. We lead disorganized lives and attempt to function within disorganized systems. Loose ends dangle, then tangle leading to more disorganization.

Would you really want to know the general time frame of your death? Would this cause you to significantly alter the course of your life? End your procrastination?

Posted in Death, In my brain, Life, Mind, Mind & Spirit, Mortality, Personal, Spirit. Comments Off on If you had an incurable disorder, would you want to know?

The story behind my 9/11 truth

If you are looking for something political or angry or exceptionally sad, I humbly ask that you move on. Those are all valid perspectives and I’m sure you will be able to find blog posts to suit what you seek. This is a discussion of personal discovery.

Backdrop: In August of 2001, I was fortunate enough to travel with a friend to the West Coast and see parts of the state of Washington (Ocean Shores and Friday Harbor both come to mind). Took in a little whale watching and even spent some time in Vancouver, BC. Everything was incredibly beautiful. The “better do this now before I’m chained to the lab” trip was right before I started graduate school.

Story: I was running late on 9/11. I know this because my same friend would normally drop me off at the subway station. He drove me to DC only if it seemed as though I wouldn’t make it to class on time. Jumping from the car, I scurried into the building and plopped down in a chair. Whew, on time again. After starting class, the professor was called away and left the room. I do remember him, at some point, indicating that we had to evacuate the building. Something about a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers in New York. Everyone gathered up tangibles and streamed outside into the courtyard. There we stood chattering, reminiscent of a childhood fire drill until some lone voice broke through with the message – just go home. Don’t stand here. Everything was canceled. Just go home.

The crowd (this wave of people) began to move. Slightly confused, I moved with it. Part washed down the escalator leading to the subway (Foggy Bottom for those familiar with the DC area). Today for me, that was not an option. My friend, my ride. How would I ever contact him? I had a cellphone but he did not. Looked at my watch. Figured he was probably more than an hour away. Purely out of instinct, I continued to move with the crowd. As my brain focused, I could hear one-sided phone conversations. One plane had hit. A second plane hit. This was not an accident. Possible other targets. It was starting to sink in. I traveled a few more steps until I reached a bench. Sat down because, in that moment, I honestly didn’t have any other place to go.

I stared at the moving wave of humanity. Felt no panic from them. Not even a tremendous amount of confusion. Simply that they were all just trying to get home. I looked to the sky in time to catch a glimpse of fighter jets screaming overhead. Was this it? The end of the world? The end of my little piece of it? The end of me? I sat several blocks from the White House thinking this could be it.

Thought of my parents and siblings. Oh, and my grandmother. I so loved Mama Dear. I thought of them all. Quickly came to the conclusion that it would be okay because they all knew that I loved them. Thought of my lovely summer trip and smiled. Thought about getting back into grad school and accomplishing that goal. All seemed so positive. Then I thought:

If it is truly my time to leave this earth, I am ready. I’m not encouraging it but I am prepared. Tomorrow is not promised. Sometimes, today isn’t. I am at peace.

I stared at the crowd again. Noticed it was thinning. Then, something familiar caught my eye. My ride, my friend. How did he find me so quickly? I walked to the car as if our meeting was somehow planned, opened the door, and climbed in. He spoke of not leaving DC that day. He had stayed in the city for breakfast, saw everything on TV at a diner, and rushed back for me. We quietly listened to radio reports and entered the highway to join another wave of humanity just trying to get home.

Five years later, I reflect on that day just as countless others. I am sure there will be moments of anger or sadness but I know I’ll always come back to my 9/11 truth:

Tomorrow is not promised. Show love to those around you TODAY. Wake up and treat each day as special. Promise to (think, feel, act) do better that day. Be at peace.