I usually go to a funeral because someone I love has died, and that sucks because death sucks.
But what about the other reasons to go to a funeral? What if someone I love has lost someone they love? What if I only knew their loved one casually, or not at all. Does it make sense to go?
I was in my early thirties the first time I was hemming and hawing about whether or not to go to a funeral. My friend’s niece had died. She was eight years old.
My justification for not going was simple, I had never met her niece. I thought this was a pretty compelling reason until I considered the other side. My friend lost someone she loved. Still, I went back and forth trying to figure out if I would be out of place or in the way of the family if I went.
As I was wrestling with this, I asked my co-workers what they thought. One said, “People don’t remember everyone who was at their wedding, but they remember who shows up at a funeral.” So I went. And it was beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time. I found my friend after the service and I hugged her and talked with some of the other family before leaving.
Since attending that service, my uncle and brother died. I was blown away when five friends showed up for my uncle’s funeral. It was then that I realized what my co-worker said was true. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what it meant to see familiar faces who cared enough about me and my family to be there. Most had never even met my uncle, but they still showed up.
At my brother’s funeral, even more people came. I don’t think I can remember them all. It was a bit of a blur that day. The funeral director said in 30 years he had never seen more people turn out for a funeral than for my brother’s. The sanctuary was packed to standing room only. Another crowd listened in the lobby through speakers. Several dozen motorcycle buddies stood guard outside until the service was over. They rode off together completing the memorial ride they had started that morning in Justin’s honor. The whole day was beautiful and heart wrenching.
I remember many of the people that came to show their support and love. Family friends I hadn’t seen in a decade or more, a friend from junior high, old youth leaders from when Justin and I were teens, Andy’s best friend from college and his wife, and so many friends I can’t possibly list them all (I tried and my eyes started filling with tears so that I couldn’t see the screen anymore). To each of you that came that day, thank you, your presence was such a gift on an extremely difficult day.
It’s overwhelming when people show they love and care about you in a such a simple way.
A month after my brother’s memorial service, our friend’s dad passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Because we understood how much it meant to have people show up, we checked the newspaper and googled for days to track down the service information. We got the time off work and drove up north. When we walked into the small country church, our friend’s eyes welled up and we hugged for a long time.
When we show up at a funeral we are saying to our loved ones that their pain matters and we are standing in it with them.
I felt love, support, and we’re-standing-with-you-in-this-crappiness from each person who showed up at my brother’s service.
I recently saw the grandmother of the little girl whose memorial service I attended three years ago. We were talking about grief and perspective and about showing up at funerals. She got a serious look on her face as she said, “Because now you know! You know you always go!”
I couldn’t agree more.