I told my sisters in an e-mail yesterday, "I have to find something to tell people who ask me how Dad's funeral was besides, 'It was great!'"
I suppose I should first answer for myself what was so great about the funeral, and the days surrounding it.
I think a funeral has more potential than any other kind of an occasion to bond a family together. And especially a certain kind of funeral. Like my Dad's funeral.
Communicators will understand this:
• Everyone who attended this funeral had a common cause. We were in Middletown, Ohio in the middle of the bitter winter to mourn what we all agreed was a significant loss. No one came passive-agressively, as many do to family holidays. No one came looking to get laid, as many do to weddings. And no one secretly suspected the transformation we were acknowledging was a temporary one, as many also do at weddings.
• The occasion was so undeniably real—a human being had gone from breathing to not breathing, from flesh to ashes—that no one talked incessantly about the wonders of the latest iPod. Intra-family agendas and rivalries were lint on a black suit. Even conversations about Obama's crucial economic agenda even these sounded tinny against the great big backdrop of the death of our personal FDR, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, just to name the first few.
• Bluster was out, vulnerability was in. I'm not somebody who believes the more you cry the psychically healthier you are. Still, it seems good to have an interaction once in a while—or a hundred interactions in one week—where somebody says, "I am sorry you are sad," and you aren't compelled to say anything more than, "Thank you." Human beings deny their frailty and their pain for very good, practical reasons: They don't want to be a burden to their friends and they don't want to show their underbellies to their enemies. A funeral gives us a chance to remove the mask, and I'm grateful I had the courage, and the trust in my friends and family, to take that chance this week.
• The subject of the funeral was an enthusiastic person who had integrity. However complex a character my dad was (and he was!) and whatever different things he meant to thousands of different people over his 85 years, we were still all talking about the same fellow. Didn't matter if it was his boyhood friend Bill from the 1920s, his girlfriend Louise from 1940, his nephew who was a "Tadpole" in the 1950s, his first set of kids who came of age in the 1960s, his second set who grew up in the 1970s, or Scout, who met Granddaddy in 2003—we were all talking about the fellow who jumped out of bed in every morning, the kidder who you could kid, the whistler, the builder of elaborate model train layouts in his basement and in his head, the word guy, the shy guy—all those things, and the stories held together, the colors all matched. It takes a human being—a certain kind of human being—to unify dozens and dozens of people in a spirit as concentrated as the one that healed me in Middletown last week.
• A reacquaintance, not with one or two things "that really matter," but with the incredible range of things that matter. I cried almost uncontrollably while reading some of my dad's words at the funeral, and I made the same involuntary sounds when I smelled the sleeve of a plaid shirt hanging in his closet. What exists in between the words and the scents of the people in our lives? Everything does.
So I spent a week with most of the people that I love—after exchanging tender phone calls and e-mails with the rest of the people that I love—talking about everything that matters and nothing that doesn't matter.
How was my dad's funeral?
It was great.