I’ve been to four funerals so far in my life. My maternal grandmother’s, a good friend from college, a young Airman in my unit, and yesterday, the husband of a co-worker. Each were very different but all had one thing in common: the air of sadness from a departed loved one.
Yesterday’s was even more different. It was the first one held in a language I didn’t fully understand. It was the first one where the dress code was surprisingly quite casual; shorts, t-shirts, jeans, slacks, blouses. Besides the clergy, only the military members were dressed up. It was the first one where the body was cremated and the urn was being laid in the ground. I recognized a solemn hymn sung in Deutsch (Bleib bei mir, Herr!) or “Abide with Me”, the Lord’s Prayer, and a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the end.
Back home, I was very young when grandma died. I remember a huge celebration and then a lot of wailing. I remember watching my mum and her sisters cry out loud. I didn’t cry. I mimicked dad’s calm demeanor and stuck to his side the whole time. I was too young to have the kind of relationship with my grandma that my sons have with their grandma-Lagos today. I didn’t know enough to cry.
In college when my boy BH died, it rocked me. He’d joined the Navy after graduation and become a pilot. He died in a plane crash. It didn’t hit me until I saw his casket lowered into the ground…that’s when I lost it. I had an outer body experience as I watched my self cry my eyes out. The crowd slowly walked away from the gravesite and I just froze and cried. Somehow I didn’t want to stop crying…I felt I owed BH all my tear ducts could muster.
When Zac died in 2011 (https://u2times.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/remembering-zac/) the funeral was a classic military funeral. Honor guard, gun salutes, thousands of American flags lining the streets along with citizens rendering salutes to a fallen warrior. My heart was so heavy. I knew him…he was my Airmen. I remember getting on bended knee to present his dog tags to his younger brother. The long hug with his mum and his dad’s stoic look throughout.
This is not one of those topics anyone should jump for excitement about. I write this because, inevitably, we will get to say goodbye to someone at some point or another and regardless of the culture or the circumstances, the feelings evoked at a funeral are universal: we miss them terribly; there’s a hole where there wasn’t one before; the things we were so concerned about before are no longer as important as saying goodbye.
Rest in Peace Manfred!