Do you remember the first funeral you attended? Who died? How did you find out? Who accompanied you to the funeral?
When Rachel’s father died, she was an adult, and she had never been to a funeral. Anyone’s. Ever. “When is the wake?” I asked. “Tomorrow night,” said Rachel, adding, “I don’t think I’ll go.”
“To your dad’s wake? Really?” This wasn’t a broken family situation. Not going? It hardly seemed like an option. As her friend, I didn’t even think not going was an option for me. I was surprised and a little annoyed. “What are you talking about?”
“What do you do at a wake, anyway?”
I explained. She went. The world twirled on.
Deciding to attend services is a little more gray when the person being honored or celebrated is more distant, a neighbor, a co-worker, a friend’s parent. Before my father died, I had been to dozens, dozens! of funerals. We lived in a city where the wells (we later learned) were tainted. People of all ages died all the time in our neighborhood. Cancers mostly, all kinds. I remember coming home after a vacation and seeing a lady carrying a casserole (we called it hot dish) to the house next door. Mom said, “Uh oh. I think Mr. G must have died.” She recognized the gesture with the food. We saw that all the time.
To compound my rich experience in funeral-going, my grade school happened to be situated adjacent to a nursing home. Once a week or so, we were called upon to sing at the funeral of some person we didn’t know, kid-choir almost always outnumbering the guest list.
And even with all those funerals in my past, I didn’t always attend wakes and funerals as an adult. They won’t miss me, I thought. I don’t want to be in the way. It’s really for close friends, isn’t it? I’m sure it will be crowded. And I had these other plans…
And then my dad died. And a lot of people came. It was crowded. There were people from all his life stages. People we saw every day and relations we hadn’t seen in ages. Someone came alone, and then went back to fetch his parents. He said, “I knew they would want to be here.”
Every face, every story, every brief exchange mattered. Every person who attended was noticed. Every person who missed it was missed. And no one was in the way. And not everyone was a close friend. And yes, it was crowded. And everyone was appreciated. It mattered. It mattered.
So now, my siblings and I say, Go. If you’re part of the circle, go. If you’re anywhere near the circle, go. I recently missed the funeral of my friend Jenny’s dad. I was deep in my own issues then, and I missed it. In the past I might have just skipped it and moved on, but since my dad’s wake and funeral, I now know, it matters, and I wished I would have made it. Go. Show up. It matters.