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.


Filed under Humor

8 responses to “Twirling

  1. Clinton

    The fear of losing that which you have is a powerful thing, and easily transferable.


    • Because our sweet dog, Cooper, is aging and in failing health, I feared Molly’s service would cause my flood gates to open again. But twirling waved all the tears away!


  2. Judy

    You have always had a knack for getting me in trouble at work……sitting at my desk, laughing hysterically until tears roll out of my eyes is not appropriate behavior. Please keep writing!


    • You never wanted to get any work done, anyway, did you? I certainly didn’t.

      You know, if I’d been smart I would have taken you to one of these funerals,because you would have been able to stop the crying jag, just like you solve all my other problems!


  3. As Marianne says, you are always funny, Elyse. And I’ve been there, too. I rarely cried until my dad died. Then I couldn’t STOP crying and it became so commonplace that in boardroom meetings my tears would flow and we all just carry on like nothing was out-of-the-usual. Because my crying in meetings had become the usual; my crying ALL THE TIME had become the usual.

    A year after my dad died a friend’s mom, who I know well, died. Her own childred consoled me at her funeral. I felt so selfish hogging the family’s grieving time like that, but I couldn’t stop balling my eyes out. Who can explain it. Last year it was the other way round when I consoled crying nurses at the Hospice where my mom was dying.All very backwards, really. I suppose it’s just gonna spew out of us when it’s ready to spew.

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing.


    • So sorry for your losses, and for yours, too Marianne.

      The worst thing about this whole aging process is that there isn’t much control over what happens to whom when. Me, I’m gettin’ a baton and keeping it handy. Maybe it will ward off bad luck!


  4. Marianne

    Beautiful! And I completely identify with your story. Not the ‘twirling at a funeral’ part. That’s a first, I think. But it’s the best funeral idea I’ve ever heard. I used to twirl. I used to be obsessed with it. I think it wore off in my early teens, but I managed to make a view dents in our living room ceiling before I put the baton away for good. But the thing I identify with the most is that feeling of bringing past losses into the funerals of people you barely know. I made it through my dad’s funeral almost dry-eyed. I did even better at my mom’s funeral a year later, although I was very close to both of them. I think it’s because, at the funeral of a close family member, you’re kind of front and center. You have to talk to people, to accept condolences, in a sense be “on stage” and very focused on just getting through it. Also those feelings are still so new and so raw that they would be hard to express anyway. Sometimes I’m just too numb with grief to actually cry. It feels like I can’t actually “feel.” That’s how it was when my parents died. Then a couple of years later a friend at work announced her grown son had cancer. He went very quickly and the whole department went to the funeral. I sobbed uncontrollably. Friends who were sitting in the pew behind me kept leaning forward and trying to hug me through it. I could not control myself. It was horribly embarrassing and exhausting and painful. I had never even met the man who died. I was crying for my parents. So, for me, this is a great topic. I’m sure it was very cathartic for you to write about. It was certainly very cathartic for me to read. Thank you, Elyse. You’ve proven once again that, no matter what you’re writing about, you’re funny.


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