An open letter to funerals.

 

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I sat down to write this morning with about sixty ideas on my mind. There’s a lot out there to discuss. First of all, it’s very important that I try to figure out Pokemon Go. Mainly so I can make fun of it.

But yesterday, our family went to a funeral. And I want to talk about it. My dear friends Christy and Karl – well, Karl lost his dad. Rather unexpectedly.

Don’t you kind of hate that? How we say, “lost”? Like, he just wandered off in Walmart, somehow, and we’ve been searching for him over in the pet food section, but really, sweet Jim was just perusing the candy aisle… And it’s all just a big misunderstanding.

This is the permanent “lost.” Jim is dead. Nobody ever says it that way. I know. It sounds harsh. The truth of it, the new-reality of it is harsh too. The world has been de-Jimmed and it’s very hard.

As far as funerals go, this was a tough one.  At one point, Christy, who was asked to sing one of Jim’s favorite hymns, found herself whisper-sobbing the final verse. A few women in the congregation sang  it for her. I just sat there and ugly cried. It was that kind of funeral. This family has been through a lot. That’s kind of like saying that that final trip on the Titanic was stressful. They have dealt with pain and loss and just, well, aching LOSS, and it’s enough. I have received texts from Christy for months, explaining other heartaches. Other losses, and I want to text back, to both God and Christy:  “Enough. ENOUGH! I think you have your QUOTA! God! Are you listening? Enough for them!”

Ok, two problems with this:

  1. Texting doesn’t really adequately do it. When dealing with searing loss and pain a text message is like, offering an alcoholic a cup of tea in rehab. It’s sweet,the thought is kind of there, but mainly it’s JUST NOT REALLY ALL THAT HELPFUL.
  2. God understands “enough” but it’s not like He says, Ok, I will VERY EVENLY SPLIT ALL THE BAD STUFF around with all the people in the world. I know. I kind of wish He would operate that way? But who am I to try and manage God? I can’t remember to pay the utility bill on time.
  3. But, really, would it not be COOL to have a way to text God??? (That’s three things. I know. So, once again, really pounding home that I am not the best candidate for helping manage the world.)

So,  as for my letter to funerals? Well, it would go like this:

Dear Funerals:

You are there to help us understand someone we love has gone. We don’t want to really get it, especially when the loved one has been so, well, here for so many days of our lives. He just called us last weekend, did you know? He had a joke to share. He was here, with us.

And now, he’s not.

And I guess I thank you, funerals, for helping us understand that.

But really? I want to thank you for something else.

The food. I want to thank you for the food.

I know. This makes me sound kind of like a candidate for yet another anonymous recovery group involving lots of eating, but listen. I thank you for the fudgy brownies and the pulled pork and the jello. The jello! I want to thank you for the piles of chips that my kids don’t ever get to eat at home, but get to eat at funerals. Funeral chips. They bless my children, in all their powdered, preservatived cheesy glory. Poor chip-less children.

I thank you for macaroni salad and that weird green pudding thing with the marshmallows. I thank you for coffee in styrofoam cups. I thank you for sloppy joes and lemon bars and for the Boston Cream poke cake that the pastor’s wife makes.

I thank you for lemonade and broccoli with bacon bits and crinkly paper napkins that don’t really do it when your kid is covered in barbecue sauce and cream cheese frosting.

I thank you for the sweet church ladies who cut slices of walnut cake so large they weighed the plates down as people carried them to the table, ready to slide off at any moment, heavy with glistening frosting and nuts and sweetness. I thank you for watermelon and cheesy puffs and cucumbers sliced thin, drenched with onions and sharp vinegar. I thank you for the pies, all the mysterious quivering salads that we try to eat with plastic forks.

I thank you for the look of concentration on my six-year-old’s face as he lifted a vibrating pile of orange Jello to his mouth, brow furrowed as it slips through the tines of the fork, all the while. He keeps trying.

I thank you for funeral food. Because we all sat down and talked, and ate, and Christy and I actually got to take a breath and laugh a little and share a really amazing brownie with homemade fudge frosting that was pretty much the answer to all the world’s problems.

Or not. Fudgy frosting is not the answer. Jesus is. But, for a moment, as we both nibbled at it and discussed our kids and life and parenting and just everything we haven’t been able to because we live far away… I thank you for that brownie. I thank you too for watching Karl and Brian pickup the needle of their friendship and place it right back down again where they left off (after at least two years) and chatter on about God and faith and blessings, even. Blessings. And how God has provided. Even after Karl saw his father go in the ground.

Blessings. The sweetness of the pie, after watching our fathers, and our brothers, go in the ground.

During Jim’s funeral, Karl spoke, and told us, “My dad always told his wife she was pretty,” and tears filled my eyes, up there in the church. And down in the church basement, Brian turned to me as I was shoveling something in my mouth, and said, “You look pretty.”

Probably not, with chocolate frosting competing with the lipstick, but you know. It made my eyes fill up again.Which blew the mascara, and, you know, the pretty thing was highly subjective at that point. But I believed him. I believed him. And I marveled at it – how a funeral of a good man could help me remember the good man sitting next to me.

And how funerals make us remember brothers who have died and how we miss them and how we thank God for them. And all the other things we forget to thank God for, like life, and sobriety, and small annoying children.

And girlfriends, who get our savage sense of humor, no matter what. And accept texts as the main mode of communication.

And, as God is my witness, that poke cake. I will always remember that poke cake and thank God for it. It was just basically holy.*

Thank you, funerals. For helping us to sit and talk over bad coffee for a bit. For helping us see the big picture, after all. That we all end up in a box, draped in flags or memories or both.

And that we are all so very loved. And it will all be okay.

Sincerely,

Momsie.

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It is my brother’s birthday tomorrow. I miss him. And yes, it’s possible I made my friend’s father in law’s funeral all about myself. That’s my thing. I am very, very good at it. But, knowing Christy, she will smile. She’s very patient with me.

*Oh my GOODNESS, DID YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE? I didn’t even see it MYSELF! I PUNNED but WITHOUT EVEN REALIZING IT. That’s it. I have arrived. Pulitzer material, I tell you.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “An open letter to funerals.

  1. This was beautiful and made my eyes fill up. Funerals. There’s something so simple and true when you’re forced to acknowledge the big, solid absence of death. And it is some sort of crazy redemptive magic from God that somehow that solid absence makes the presence of all the life around you so overwhelmingly precious.

    See there? you got me all pensive and wordy.

    And as far as you making it all about yourself? Well, whenever I do that, which is pretty much always, I always remind myself that I am myself, and no one’s going to apply life truths to me besides me. 🙂 So it’s all good.

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