Monday, April 4, 2011

The nature of a funeral is closely tied to the nature of the death. There are those funerals following shocking, unexpected, sometimes violent deaths. Funerals for those deaths we were totally unprepared for are dreadful, attended by people struggling to make sense out of the random cruelty of life. We're bemoaning the person who died far too young or senselessly. Having recently attended one of these funerals, I sincerely hope I won't have to face that again for a long, long time.

There are funerals for people who have dealt with long illnesses. Those funerals are always a mix of sadness and anger at the unfairness of illness and a certain level of relief that the suffering of a loved one is over. The best funerals are for the 90 year-old who passed away peacefully in his sleep. Families gather, share meals, and reminisce. There are tears, of course, but no tragedy. Mostly it's a celebration of a life well-lived.

The funeral I have to attend this week is not any of these. This week my family will say its final good-bye to a man whose life was lost 20 years ago. Alcohol claimed his life long before it finally stopped his body. We don't actually know what he died from, whether it was a heart attack or a stroke or even alcohol poisoning. We didn't bother with an autopsy because we know what killed him. None of us were surprised to get that phone call. We're all a little surprised it didn't come years ago. We're mildly pleased he actually had a home to die in. Had this happened during a homeless spell, who knows how long it would have been before we knew. And almost universally, we all shook our heads and called it a shame. He had such a hard life. He was a kind, generous, sweet man whose life feels like a terrible waste because he could never show that kindness to himself.

Initially, there was talk of not even having a funeral. Maybe there was a reluctance to have us all gather where we would be faced with our collective failure to help him overcome the demon of addiction that dominated the last half of his life. There was the thought that this life was not one to celebrate. And I think his brothers, his cousins, even his daughter, may have already felt like he was dead, or at least the man they'd hoped he would be was long gone.

But I'm glad there will be a funeral, because I will tell them all how I will always remember him. He was 23 when I was born and the baby of his generation. My first memories of him are from when I was 6 and when I picture him, I still picture him at 29. He was handsome and tall (not really, but everyone is tall to a 6 year-old, especially one as small as I was). And he was always willing to play with me. I always smiled when my parents told me he was coming over because I knew he would play badminton or push me on the swing or do whatever other thing I asked him to. He never ran out of patience. He made me feel like I was the person he'd come over to see. I had no idea how he struggled, how unhappy he was. I just knew that he was my favorite and I felt sure I was his.

I agree that his life and death were tragic. I agree that it's a shame he lost so many jobs and loved ones and years to the bottle. But I can't agree that his life was a total waste. Because once upon a time there was a 6 year-old who had a mad crush on him. And anyone who can get a kid to love him that much did something right.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


mikeb302000 said...

Thanks for that beautifully touching post. Please accept all my condolences.

Tammy said...

Such a poignant reminder. It's easy, sometimes, to forget that even those on society's margins - those lost to addiction, mental illness, homelessness, poverty - are someone's son/daughter, brother/sister, uncle/aunt, father/mother, friend. Thank you for sharing this.

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