I’m not a funeral girl.
Ever since the time I embarrassed myself and damaged my reputation beyond repair at the funeral of the husband of an office consultant with whom I’d become friendly, well, I’ve tried to avoid funerals. At all costs.
But late last week, Ella, my neighbor here in Maine, invited me to Molly’s funeral, which was held yesterday. At the time of the invitation, Molly was still alive, making the invitation, well, a bit stranger than some. But then of course, Molly was Ella’s dog, a 105-year old dachshund Ella knew wouldn’t fare well through the winter. So she made that hard and necessary decision. Molly would stay in Maine.
But Ella wanted me at the funeral. As her friend and fellow dog lover, I knew I should go.
But I couldn’t stop thinking of the last funeral I attended, the one that made me willing to hurt anyone’s feelings just to avoid another. What happened? Was it really so bad? Does anyone who went to it remember?
Jim’s was a particularly sad passing. He was only 35, the father of four kids under 12, including two adopted special needs children. He died suddenly of a heart attack no one expected while he was playing volleyball with a group of old friends. He had just spiked the ball.
His funeral was impressive. The church was Easter Sunday-packed. It seemed that anyone who had ever known him or his wife, my friend Karen, showed up to pay their respects and to share stories. Karen, who was clearly suffering, delivered the most moving eulogy I have ever heard. She made me laugh, she made me wish I had known Jim, the man who I knew I would now never meet. She made me cry.
And that was the problem.
Now, I’m not a crier. I hate to cry and do it rarely. I do not understand women who feel better “after a good cry.” There is no such thing as a “good” cry. I don’t feel better. I have a stuffy nose, a headache and a level of humiliation that correlates to how publicly I lost control and the number of wet, slimy Kleenexes in my pockets.
So back to Jim’s funeral. It was Karen’s fault — she made me cry. Or Jim’s — he was the one who died. Or it was my sister Judy’s fault, because she had up and died suddenly two years before Jim. Yeah. Judy gets this one.
So there I was at the funeral of a man I had never met, sobbing uncontrollably. Crying harder and louder than anyone else. Harder than his wife. Harder than his kids. Harder than his mother. Harder in fact than any one of the three hundred or so people in attendance who had actually met him. Sobbing so loudly that it echoed off the walls of the octagonal church. Folks were looking at me, wondering who I was. They wondered what Jim had meant to me. They wondered when I was going to stop making an ass out of myself.
They wondered how long our extra-marital affair had been going on.
From the constant jerk of heads in my direction, you’dda thought I was a movie star. But no, it was just me, Sobbing Sadie, who had never even met poor Jim. Had Jim seen my performance, well, I bet he would have been just as happy to have missed that introduction.
I cried all the way back to the office. I’m tearing up even now.
So when Ella came over to invite me to a funeral, well, I was concerned. I was reluctant. I prefer to make an ass of myself on my own terms, or at a minimum to be laughing as I do it. But then Ella told me that there would be twirling.
“Sure, of course I’ll be there,” I said. But still I worried.
In fact, the service was quite nice. We were seven women, and we each said a little something about Molly, lit a candle. Just when I felt the first warm tears forming, Ella got out her baton and saved my pride.
Ella had been head Drum Majorette at her high school. And Pam, Ella’s friend and guest for part of the summer, had been one too; she twirled through college. So Ella and Pam twirled for the gathering, instantly lightening the mood as we all wondered, well, what did twirling have to do with Molly?
The answer was nothing. Nothing at all. Molly, who after all had no thumbs, had herself never twirled. But twirling had everything to do with Ella. It made Ella feel better, and it made the rest of us all smile and know she’d be OK. And that, I realized was the whole point of this and every other funeral.
It took me fifty-four-and-a-half years, but eventually I catch on. Sometimes it just takes a bit longer.
So I’m not going to avoid funerals from now on. But instead of a carton of Kleenex, I’m bringing a baton.