Always Go to the Funeral

November 23, 2018 | Filed Under Death Work, Things I Think About | No Comments

“Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.
In going to funerals, I’ve come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life’s inevitable, occasional calamity.”
“Always Go to the Funeral”, Deirdre Sullivan, NPR

My family members are apparently unable to die at a reasonable time of day or year—the hours between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM seems preferred, and the nearer to Christmas Day (my paternal grandmother managed to hold out so she could die *on* Christmas Day, not kidding) or someone’s wedding, the better. My dad died the week between my birthday and my parents’ wedding anniversary, thus creating a shadow on not one, but two, special dates.

All these winter deaths mean winter funerals, and by God we are going to do the graveside service after the church service, who cares if the windchill makes it five degrees below zero. And winter funerals also mean driving in terrible weather, because my relatives are mostly in scattered small towns across southern Missouri.

When my dad died in February many years ago, about 200 people other than family (friends, coworkers, business associates) made the three-hour trek on a work day from the city he lived in to the small town where he was to be buried, and then went to the graveside service in the snow. I was stunned—this was not anyone’s idea of fun, and certainly not comfortable, and there they were, in their formal suits under their winter coats, and galoshes over the dress shoes they’d worn to the funeral home, freezing by the grave with the family.

My mom died Thanksgiving weekend a few years after my dad died (really, holidays don’t stand a chance with us). Again, about 200 non-related people did the long, boring drive on a work day in terrible weather to attend the service at both the funeral home and the cemetery. It was freezing, and *I* didn’t want to go to the cemetery,. and this was for my own mother. But I did, and they did, and I cannot tell you how much it meant to me that some of my friends took the day off from university—the last week of classes—to attend my mother’s funeral.

My grandmother died the week between Christmas and New Year’s (she was moved from hospital to hospice on Christmas Day, but managed to make it through Christmas Day). The grandchild of one of her friends came to the visitation, and brought a class picture from when my grandmother was in second grade. We’d never seen the photo, and had never met the person who brought it. But she hauled herself out on a freezing, snowy evening to share that photo with us, a group of strangers, because she knew it would mean something to us.

My niece’s husband had died the week before (two days before Christmas, I mean it when I say the holidays are not safe in my family), and *his parents*—his mom is in a wheelchair and requires an oxygen tank 24/7—drove three hours in the snow to come to my grandmother’s funeral.

So, unless the funeral is scheduled at the same time as your own, you can go to the funeral.

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