About a year ago, I attended the funeral of my aunt Edna, my mother’s older sister. All told, I had 17 aunts and uncles, and Edna, at age 102, was the last to go. Her passing marked the turning of a generation.
“Now,” I could say to my brother — as I once heard my uncle say to my mother — “we are the old people.”
That wasn’t the end of the funerals. Soon I was off to one for a good friend and then to that of a cousin. The difference, of course, is that these funerals — and all the others I will go to from now on — are not for persons of the older generation, but of my own.
I hope it doesn’t come across as perverse to say I kind of like funerals. I like the solemnity, though generally leavened by the message that we are “celebrating” a life as well as mourning a death. I enjoy the music, which tends to the tried and true rather than anything too experimental (though a friend reports the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction being sung at the memorial service of a deceased baby boomer). I like how at funerals the churches are full, sometimes to spilling over. I like the sense of occasion and the richness of the camaraderie.
Unless the funeral is the result of some tragic or shocking event, nobody stays gloomy for long. Emotions that were directed toward grief shift imperceptibly to a kind of happiness at being brought together.
At my cousin Ken’s funeral, for example, the tiny rural United Church was far too small to handle the crowd, so the overflow collected outside under a tent beneath some maple trees. Cousins from my father’s side of the family I’d not seen in years came together, as well as children I remembered only as babies. It was sad to have Ken die, but his funeral provided a grand family reunion we’d never have found a way to organize otherwise. I think he’d have liked that.
Then, as we’d done at both the funerals of my aunt and my friend, we lined up to load our plates with salmon salad sandwiches, those little sweet pickles, and the Nanaimo bars and brownies that only the United Church Women in their inimitable way seem able to produce.
Attending funerals of people who are my contemporaries is a wake-up call. Where did the time go? Where did our lives go? Obsessing about this is tedious, but I can’t help thinking about it.
Recently I returned to my old college and walked down hallways that looked exactly as they did, it seems only yesterday. Even the faces coming toward me looked recognizable. But those young faces didn’t see one of their own — if they saw me at all. They saw a generation past.
A favourite Bible passage for a lot of people is Ecclesiastes 3, where we are told there is a time for everything. I noted this passage when I was young but only realize now that it can’t be properly appreciated until you get to at least middle age.
There truly is a season for everything. The kids at my old college were going to their classes; my own children are going to weddings and baby showers. As for me, I’m attending funerals, and will be with increasing regularity.
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