“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
So I attended a funeral today for one of my Dad’s cousins. Actually, for the wife of one of my Dad’s cousins, if you want to be precise.
Now, those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I don’t do well at funerals, generally. I always end up saying something STUPID or INSENSITIVE to someone close to the deceased, and everyone feels bad and then I lie low until the next death.
The last funeral I attended was for my beloved Mr. Pauls back in January, and SURE ENOUGH, I put my foot in it again. My friend Ed and I were reminiscing with Mr. Pauls’ daughter after the service, and we were telling her how we were in one of his high school productions.
“Oh, you were in one of the plays? Which one?” she sounded genuinely interested.
“The Crucible!” I blurted out.
“The Crucible…….”, she said it thoughtfully and looked off into the middle distance.
“You know, the Arthur Miller play about the witch trials,” I offered helpfully.
She looked at me coldly.
“I know what the Crucible is.”
Of course! Of course she did. She was a damn English teacher too! Her thoughtful look was not about the play itself, but what year it happened. I was such a buffoon.
My friend Ed recovered quickly:
“It was 1992. It really was the highlight of our year!”.
His daughter seemed happy with that and moved on.
See what I mean? I can’t help it. So I was guarded in everything I said and did. I wasn’t going to make a dumb mistake this time.
Luckily, I bumped into the immediate family right as I came into the church, so I could get that out of the way right away. One awkward hug to the daughter and a “I’m so sorry” whispered NOT CREEPILY and that was her taken care of. The newly widowed husband? My Dad’s cousin? A quick handshake, all stiff upper-lippy, that turned into an impromptu hug by my instigation but THANK GOD no comments like ‘Happy to be here!” or “You’re looking great, considering!” (Things I have actually said to the mourning at some point at other funerals!) And the son-in-law? Nothing more than a quick handshake, and a knowing sympathizing nod of the head. I was done! I was scott-free!
Did I underdo it? There’s a danger of that, I suppose. I mean, let’s be honest: I’ll certainly miss this lady at family gatherings, and by all accounts she seemed like a lovely and kind person. I mean, I KNOW she was. But it wasn’t like we were super close. I feel like a good way to judge your proximity to the deceased is to see how many photos you make it into in the photo display in the lobby (or the powerpoint slide-show if you are fancy). Friends, I made it into one photo, which gives you an idea of where I fit into the scheme of things here. Not that I am disappointed. I am actually surprised of even that one. We were third-string relations which calls for a sort of tertiary mourning.
Another gauge of closeness is how many new facts you learn about the person during the eulogy. If you already knew all the stories, chances are you were pretty close to that person. I learned A LOT from the lovely and compassionate remembrances delivered by her daughter. (The aforementioned daughter of the appropriate hug). One thing the daughter said was that she was always happy to be an only child, because she had all the love and attention of her parents. This made me wonder if our own only daughter would one day be called upon to say similar things about me or my wife. What would she say? I better start treating her better, or at the very least I must outlive her.
I turned to my Mom at some point and said, “I didn’t realize she was a nurse.” My Mom, whose voice carries further than mine, said: “Yes! When I had my TUBES TIED, she was the first person to visit me in the Grace Hospital.”
Jesus, Mom! I don’t want to hear about your damn tubes, and certainly not in the middle of a GODDAMN church service. (I didn’t say that out loud, but it was in my heart).
Oh! And I got mistaken again for my younger, more interesting and successful brother, which is always fun. A woman came up to me and said, “I hear you’ve had a lot of changes in your life recently.”
“Oh yes, you Mom filled me in. I think you’ll find it quite interesting working at UBC.”
“Oh, that’s not me. That’s my brother.”
“Oh sorry. What do you do again?”
“I work in a library.”
“Oh that’s nice.” and she was off to talk to someone more interesting. I still don’t really know who she was.
The biggest surprise was that I reconnected with someone from my past at the service today. Her parents are good friends with my Dad’s cousin and his wife, and she sang a haunting version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in the service. This person, let’s call her DBS, was a friend from back in the 90s, my university days. I had mostly lost track of her except for the odd incidental update through mutual friends. She was (and is) good friends with an ex-girlfriend of mine. DBS and I spent a week in Vancouver together in December 1997 for the sole purpose of seeing U2’s Popmart Tour for a second time.
I wasn’t even sure if she’d remember me, but I thought I’d give it a shot. I went up to her at the reception.
“Hey D, nice job on “Hallelujah””.
She turned around, and after the briefest moment of confusion, her eyes lit up.
“Trevor! Oh my God! This is excellent!”
Talk about an inappropriate thing to say at a funeral! Luckily neither one of us were ever that great at timing. I had a wonderful “Catch Up” session with her. She’s now married and has one daughter. Just like me! Only children FTW! We eventually got around to reminiscing about our Vancouver week, and it was like 18 years had never happened. We quickly fell into our old banter. The events of that week probably deserve a post of their own one day. I was able to introduce my wife to DBS too, and the two of them really hit it off. Later my wife said that if DBS lived closer she could totally see being friends with her, and that makes sense to me. I enjoyed hanging out with DBS more than I did with Margaret, my actual girlfriend back then, so it probably comes as no surprise that my girlfriend and I parted ways the following year. The fact that she turned out to be a lesbian probably had more to do with than the incompatibility of personalities, but there you have it.
I’ve never been great at remaining friends with former girlfriends. I know some people can do it, but that’s not me. I need a clean break, but the downside of that usually is that you lose not only the relationship, but also all of the excellent side friendships that came with it. My friendship with DBS was collateral damage when things with Margaret went sideways.
My Dad’s cousin, (cousin’s wife, fine), was super organized. She picked the hymns for her service (not Joyful Joyful, as I had predicated, but still solid choices), she picked her favourite bible verses including the one about never being separated from God’s love, and she even made the centrepieces that were on the reception hall tables. She loved parties and bringing people together. I think she would have been pleased that one silver-lining of her memorial service would be that two university friends (and U2 fans) would reconnect after almost 2 decades.
“See ya around, Trevor. Hopefully it won’t be another 20 years. Got any summer plans?”
“Um, yeah. Actually I’m going to go see U2 next month. In Vancouver.”
Some things never change.
So I met up with an old friend, didn’t say or do anything questionable to the grieving family, AND I scored a couple of the cherry cream-cheese fancy sandwiches. All in all, a pretty good day.