I Have an Intense Love/Hate Relationship…

…with funerals.

Let me explain. Or at least try to.

Most likely, I’ve been to more funerals than you. Not that this is a contest. I’m just saying. When I was an altar boy, I often got ‘funeral duty.’ That meant, during school, I was pulled out of class, along with another friend, to go across the street and serve a funeral happening that day. By the time I finished eighth grade, I had probably already been witness to at least 30 to 35 funerals.

Seeing a funeral from the altar gives a certain perspective — that of respect. I could tell early on that with each funeral, my ‘respect’ — not just for the departed soul, but for the process — grew.

With all of my recent angst over all things catholic, strangely enough, one of my favorite elements is tradition. And, I have to say, us catholics know how to send someone off.

There are a lot of reasons for it, but a big part of it is the music. Listen to some of the hymns and, well, it just gets to you. At least it does to me. It’s a part of me that really resonates catholic. Like, OK, maybe this is the faith for me.

From my all-time favorite funeral song (yes, I have a list), You Are Near:

Yahweh, I know you are near. Standing always at my side. You guard me from the foe, and you lead me in ways everlasting.

How about from Be Not Afraid:

Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come, follow me. And I will give you rest.

And, while it’s not my all-time favorite, it’s the one that has the most impact on me, On Eagle’s Wings:

And he will raise you up, on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn. Make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.

Yup, that’s the one. It was played at my dad’s funeral, as well as my brother’s.

And, it was played at the one I went to today.

A family that is amazingly close to me lost a loved one after a long battle. This was a woman who had four children, 16 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren. An immigrant who chased the American dream. A simple, yet prosperous life in so many ways.

And I was proud to be there to support my friends. It was a beautiful service. Simple, just like her.

And then On Eagle’s Wings came on.

And I lost it.

Absolutely lost it.

See, while I love funerals for all of the above, the tradition, the music etc.

I also hate funerals. I’m sorry, was that not strong enough? I HATE funerals.

Because, now, every time I go to one I revisit so much from my past. And I’m not talking about being an altar server. I’m talking about being a son and a brother.

I watch someone make it through a eulogy without breaking down and think, “I wish I could do that.”

I tried to sing the song today. I opened my mouth and no words came out. None. It was like I lost my voice. The music started and I got chills. And then I was sobbing.

Good timing, too, because it was right as the family was coming down the aisle. So here we are, at a funeral for their grandmother and they are supporting me. Yup, that’s how it was supposed to be.

But, I can’t  help it. For me, that’s how it will always be.

So afterwards, once we made it out of the church, I went to see my friend, I hugged him and said, “You know I’m not good at these things.”

He said, “I know, but you’re here. And we can’t thank you enough.”

And then after his mom and sister both gave me tissues, I sat in my car and cried some more — waiting for all of the cars to depart.

And then, after a while, I started my trip back home and a funny thing  happened, in the quiet of my own car, and in the midst of my own wandering thoughts, I opened my mouth to try and sing that song, and with the memory of my dad, my brother and my friends’ grandmother, the words came out.


3 Comments on “I Have an Intense Love/Hate Relationship…”

  1. fritz says:

    yup, once the lyrics to On Eagles Wings come out, i am done for, i couldn’t even read the rest of your post through my tears…i am glad you were able to sing the words in the private of your own car.

  2. MKinane says:

    “Ave Maria” — chokes me up immediately. This was a interesting post for me this week. A friend of my 13-yr-old went home last Friday and found his father dead, which has led to a lot of talk and introspection on both my son’s and my part. My father died when I was 11, so I kind of know what my son is thinking…he is just getting to think it while I am still around. What’s been good is that he and I are finding some new ground together about what we want out of each other in our relationship. The key, I guess, will be seeing whether it sticks as he moves further into “teen-hood.”

  3. Pat says:

    We can delay but we cannot avoid grief. It is a process and it is one each of us has to visit during our lives. Each time we go to a funeral, memorial service or celebration of life, we bring with us our own very first death experience, be it good or bad. I feel most sad for anyone who had a tragic or tramatic first experience because it is often nearly impossible to ever adjust to this most natural of life experiences. Those who have had the gift of a good and healthy first death experience seem to deal best with each subsequent death they may experience in their lives. Thus the point of my reply…bring your children with you and provide for them the most honest and very loving first death experience you can possibly share with them. You will be teaching them one of the most important life lessons ever. They will be healthier in the end and who knows, you may even find healing to be yours at the same time. God Bless…


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