I read a great article yesterday called “Always Go To the Funeral,” which was originally recorded for NPR’s show “All Things Considered.” They asked people to write short essays on the topic “This I Believe,” and Deirdre Sullivan, a lawyer in New York, wrote that she had learned from her father to always go to the funeral. To learn why, you should read the piece--it’s really great and also short. Here’s my favorite part of the essay, though:
“In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing….In going to funerals, I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable, occasional calamity.”
We needed to go to a viewing tonight and it wasn’t very convenient. We can’t attend the funeral during the day tomorrow, so that left tonight from 5-7 p.m., at a funeral home at least 30 minutes away, maybe more at that time of day, and we are hosting a Limu party at our house at 7 p.m., to be followed by homework and snacks and “Oh my gosh, it’s after 9:00, you have to get in bed NOW!”
But there was no question that I would go. I didn’t know the deceased man very well, but I do know his sons and their families, having attended church with them for nearly my entire life. I babysat one son’s daughters, and the other son and his wife helped us start a small group ministry. Both have been great examples on how to do parenting right. Now their children are grown and they have lost their dad--a reminder to me (as if I really needed another one) that life is short. It may be less than convenient for me to fit a funeral home visitation into my schedule, but it’s worse to lose someone you love.
In the article, Sullivan makes the point that we should always choose to do things that are inconvenient for us when they would be meaningful for the other person. I have often thought that I want to be a more thoughtful person, who sends encouraging notes and remembers birthdays and gives excellent presents because I pay attention. Well, guess what: this is a way to actually start being more thoughtful.
When Justin’s parents died, ten years apart, I was struck by how much the simple gestures meant to us. There is a reason that people traditionally bring food to the grieving: it’s one less thing for them to have to deal with, and on top of that, it’s delicious and therefore comforting. I promised myself I’d do better about providing food to the bereaved, and I have remembered to keep trying. So for this funeral, I offered to bake two cakes, and was told that one would suffice. I know this was not because my baking skills were being disparaged, but because plenty of other people had volunteered to bring or pay for food for the family meal after the service. That is encouraging, in this world which is full of so much animosity. We can still be a village.
So I baked the cake and frosted it, and it’s on the counter in its disposable foil pan. It fell a little in the center, but that just means those pieces will have extra frosting on them. I went to the viewing, and the family was happy to see me. And I was glad I had gone.