Thursday, August 17, 2006

What Do Normal People Do at Funerals?

One of the more morbid memories of my childhood involves my mother, the selfless, spiritual, and thoughtful woman that she is, bringing a five year old me to the funerals she attended. I can recall many funerals, mostly members of our parish or dear friends of my grandparents, and sometimes a few distant family members that I hadn't gotten the chance to know. More often than not, I didn't know who they were, only that I was supposed to behave as I would in mass--stay quiet and sit still. I realized very quickly that funerals were a bit different than mass. For one, we didn't sing the same songs, and two, people were crying. Even then my five year old self was so desperate to fit in that I would look at my mother to see if she was crying, and if so, I would force myself to tear up and begin weeping. I have always been quick with the waterworks so it only took a few unhappy thoughts like my dog getting hit by a car or my brother pulling my hair and I would begin sobbing and curling up into my mother's arms. Eventually I began shoving one of my father's handkerchiefs in my pocket before a ceremony so that I could dab at my tears and pretend to have control over my emotions. Some days I couldn't force the melancholy so I would quietly sniffle in our pew. I usually left the church with the same puffy, red eyes and tear stained cheeks as everyone else, gripping my mother's hand as we walked back home. It wasn't until much later in life that I realized there was something terribly wrong with this situation.

I'm thinking of this now as I prep myself for a relatives funeral. Jon's great-aunt passed away recently and the funeral is being held tomorrow morning. Unfortunately I did not know her well, only meeting a few times in the many years that I've known his family, but I'm taking Jon's word for it that she lived a long, abundant and blissful life. Unlike the old days I do not aspire to cry at her ceremony, but I will if I feel so moved, which I probably will. Though from what I have known of her and been told she was the vivacious type that did not want us all to be sad at her death. Mostly I plan to attend the mass and pray a lot, sing beautiful songs in memory of her, and proceed to the luncheon afterward where family and friends will congregate and share great stories and memories of her. She was 85 years old so I'm sure there are many.

I've been fortunate to not have many friends or family members pass away. Part of me is well aware that it will happen one day but a much larger part of me remains blissfully ignorant with a "no, not me" approach. Sadly, Jon has been losing many relatives in the last few years, beginning with his grandmother, whom we both adored, only months after our wedding. Only days before his aunt passed away of a heart-attack, he was told another great-aunt has been diagnosed with cancer. I find myself wishing I knew the magic words to make it all better, to keep him from having to lose yet another family member to cancer, but I don't. The best that I can do is be there for him and the rest of the family, and become a health activist, to ensure that we are here for as long as we can be. I haven't told anyone yet but I signed myself up for my office's team in Race for the Cure. Jon has had two (very young) aunt's diagnosed and successfully treated for breast cancer and I hope my signing up will be an example of how much I have grown to love them all.

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