Funerals are a sort of hobby for me. The first one I can remember attending was my grandpa's when I was almost ten years old. It was a solemn occassion with lots of tears and sadness. There was a traditional Catholic Mass followed by a graveside service. By the time I was in high school, three of my four grandparents had passed away already, and each of their funerals were similar.
In September of 2004 my last grandparent passed away, my paternal grandpa, which kicked off a year of funerals for me. At the time I was dating Sean, who declined to come to the funeral saying he didn't want to meet my extended family for the first time at a funeral. The next funeral I attended was Sean's. Though I'd become quite familiar with death and funerals by that point, Sean's was a whole new experience. I'd never said good-bye to someone my own age, and it was even stranger that the someone was my boyfriend. I was 23 years old, and I'd been through a traumatic experience, having been the person to discover Sean's suicide on Valentine's Day of all days. Sean and I were a couple, best friends, and part of me was missing without him. But I had nothing to do with planning his funeral.
Actually, what Sean had was a memorial service. It was the first time I'd attended such an event. Sean was cremated -- I'd never seen that before. There wasn't much formality at his memorial service either. I sat with Sean's parents and the rest of their family, apart from my own friends and family who were in attendance. The eulogies were by open invitation. I'd written my own eulogy out, but many of them were just people's impromptu sharing. And I guess what I remember the most was the music. Rather than church music, pop songs were played, and I remember clearly all three of them and how they related to Sean. The music just sort of played, unlike a Catholic funeral where music is played deliberately at certain times.
The experience of Sean's funeral changed me. I had always known that funerals could provide a kind of closure, but it didn't occur to me that they could actually be personal. I was surprised that I wasn't bothered that there was no body. In fact, I guess I had never realized what a distraction having a body there was for me in the past. I thought, for the first time, that it didn't matter that there was no body because Sean no longer occupied that body anyway. What a revelation that was for me!
That year I attended several more funerals, first my Uncle Tommy's, then one of the bar regulars, old Kenny Lisenbee. That summer another young regular named Scotty, who was Sean's age, also committed suicide and I attended his service as well. I finished the year of funeral's off with my boss Charly's funeral, held almost exactly one year after my grandpa's had been held. It occurred to me then that funerals were no longer very sad occassions for me. They were just kind of something I did, because death is just kind of part of life. While I still cried at many of them, at others I did not. Attending funerals became for me a way to do one last thing for the person who had died, and also something to show the family of the departed that their loved one mattered to one more person.
For months I have been planning Gabriel's funeral. I knew it would be necessary one day, and that no matter how long he lived that funeral would be necessary sooner than I would want. Any time a parent has to plan a funeral for their child it is sooner than that parent would want. Still, I find comfort in being able to plan the perfect event for Gabe. We decided some time ago that Gabriel would be cremated, and when we passed his lifeless body on to the funeral home, it struck me that soon that body would be ashes but I was not bothered. His spirit had already moved on. I did not want the distraction of that hollow body at his funeral. I wanted to be able to enjoy the solemn beauty of the Mass that would be offered for him, and to enjoy the special music that we picked for his special day.
When Gabriel's Mass is over, Ben and I will take his ashes back to our home until the day when we privately inter them, just the two of us and priest. But at our home a celebration will be held. We have been cleaning our house and giving our lawn extra water to look extra nice for Gabriel's guests. Ben has planned the food, friends and family have offered to bring side dishes. We are looking forward to a beautiful celebration of Gabriel's life.
I was a little reluctant to take time out today from our funeral planning to attend a co-worker's wedding, but as I wavered on whether or not to go I thought it was an important time for Ben and I to witness a wedding, and to remind ourselves of our own love and how young and new it still is. Lisa and Mike, whose wedding we will be attending, met in the bar where Lisa and I work, just as Ben and I met in the bar I was working at in law school. Though I knew the dangers of dating a patron, I also knew I liked Ben a lot. I grew to love Ben, and I love our story of two lonely hearts looking for love in a place where it can be hard to find. Today as I witness Lisa and Mike's marriage, I will remember the hope and the promise Ben and I felt on our own wedding day. That hope and promise are still very much alive, despite the fear and the pain we are currently working through. I will pray that hope and promise and love will carry us.