I have long thought of weddings and funerals as mirror images: similar but opposites.
For both, guests are invited, the guests dress up, a notice is put out on social media and the papers, there’s often a gathering at a Place of Worship, eloquent words are spoken, and there is usually a reception. For one, two people leave the Place of Worship. For the other, a casket or an urn leaves the assembly.
Funerals are weddings but in reverse.
One of my best friends texted me last week that his mother had died suddenly. We had adjoining cubicles at an investment bank while at early jobs out of college. Given that we spent about 14 to 24 hours each day next to each other, we became friendly and then close. There’s something about concurrent suffering that just binds together people.
Mrs. T. was out in Montana to visit family, but I was able to get coverage for our youngest child. So, I booked the flights, the hotel, and the car to be at the funeral. As someone I know said: “For family and close friends, you just show up.” At my mother’s funeral when I was 33, I was struck by how many people from my past showed up, and I never forgot those gestures.
Friday was a brutal day. My direct flight to Louisville, Kentucky, was cancelled just before I was to leave for the airport. The airline rerouted me through Charlotte. But storms delayed our flight, I was going to miss my connection, and we sat on the tarmac. I logged back in. The airline then proposed this re-routing: Boston to Charlotte to Chicago to Louisville. I took it, as there was no other way I was going to get to a 10 am Saturday church funeral otherwise.
On the flight to Charlotte, on a hunch, I logged in again and was shocked to discover that the airline proposed a simpler route. I would still arrive very late at Louisville, but it would involve fewer flights and a five-hour layover. I took it and luxuriated at a sushi dinner and then walked around the Charlotte airport to kill time. Mrs. T, as did Joanne and Jody, tolerated my sardonic texts and encouraged me (thank you all!).
I got to the hotel about 11 pm after 12 hours of travel and called it a day.
The church service was amazing, and it was good to see some familiar faces: my friend, his life partner, and the other groomsmen from his wedding so long ago. Honestly, given my past, funerals are pretty gut-wrenching for me. But I was glad I was there and for the burial ceremony afterwards.
My friend hosted people at his place for a reception, and it was wonderful to spend time with him and his amazing family.
What do you say to someone when his mother has died suddenly? What can you offer to encourage healing? I’m not really sure, but I just tried to be there and to listen to him. He’s a great guy, and we’ve been real friends for decades. I guess you just “show up”?
For my friends, it’s still a small circle for those who have lost a mother. But when that happens, it changes the arc of your life. You want to be there when someone’s mother has died.
On Saturday, I flew back. Thankfully, the flights were smooth. During my layover, I went back to the same sushi bar. The bartender remembered me, and we shared some laughs. During the Charlotte to Boston leg, I joked with a flight attendant. He was new to the job and clearly relished the opportunity to fly. Amazingly, he slipped me a free double Bourbon later on.
I got home depleted, both physically and emotionally. Mrs. T. and I went to Sunday Mass today. I worked out like a madman and later took a long afternoon nap.
Mrs. T. and I finally had a chance to catch up tonight over Sunday dinner.
“How was the funeral?” she asked. I paused.
“Honestly, I think it was probably one of the most important things I’ve done in my life,” I said. “For our good friends, we just have to show up. It was all worth it.”