I wear my heart on my sleeve. If you and I are in a room and you’re crying, you will not cry alone. I am a very emotional person. Always have been and probably always will be. A few months after my brother died, I didn’t think I would ever be that emotional again. I was numb, kind of cold. Not much could penetrate the shield I created. But with the deaths of my parents this year, I have returned to that weeping mess I’ve always been.
So yesterday, when I was on my way to attend a high school classmate’s funeral, I knew it would not be a good day. When I saw the large church and the people already filing in 40 minutes before the service, I could feel myself start to panic. But I kept my shit together and walked in with a few old friends.
While looking at the photos of Vicki at the back of the church, my stomach started to lurch. I just wanted to stand there for a few minutes, catch my breath and look at all the pictures, many of our friend as an adult with her children, but we were herded into our seats. I was mildly irritated but I understood. There were going to be a lot of people there and they needed to seat people right away. But I also didn’t want to cry uncontrollably before the service even started.
As we sat down, we watched a slideshow of other photos on the wall of the church with this sad, sad melody playing in the background. That damn music. I can barely stand to listen to any music these days unless it’s angry. Although I often cry after listening to that, too. So we watched the show and saw images of Vicki with her husband and children, some with her colleagues, her siblings, her friends, and other photos as a child and teenager. While the slideshow played, we could see her family at the front of the church, greeting folks and waiting for it all to begin.
When the pastor started the service, he made me angry from the beginning. “Vicki’s work on Earth was complete,” he said. Complete? Finished? At 46? Screw you, man.
But then her adult daughter spoke. She was funny and sweet and told great stories. One of Vicki’s colleagues quoted a variety of children from the school where Vicki taught. These were little ones, elementary school, and some quotes were sweet and others were exactly what we were thinking. “I just don’t understand. Why?” Listening to the thoughts of children losing their beloved teacher, this woman whom I knew years ago but apparently remained the incredibly kind and gentle person she had always been, this started to break me. Why indeed.
Two of Vicki’s nieces read a “Pete the Cat” book aloud. Vicki taught Pre-K so Pete the Cat was a great character to pass wisdom on to kiddos. A parent whose children were taught by Vicki spoke and told a wonderfully funny story about Vicki’s thoughtfulness and kindness. Then Vicki’s husband got up to speak. I sat up straighter in order to brace myself. This man was devastated and sobbed on and off throughout his speech. The love he has for her poured from him as he spoke and cried. To witness this act of love and loss was a privilege. A gift. This high school classmate of mine was loved so much and it seemed she became who she wanted to be and lived the life she wanted and loved. I won’t call her lucky, because to die at 46 is not lucky. It sucks. But to live a life that you chose, surrounded by people that you loved and loved you, that part was lucky.
Vicki’s adult son was the last to speak. He was just as eloquent as his sister, told some funny stories and gave us insight on the mom that she was. She loved her children fiercely and went to every single sporting event or activity that they were in. She did everything she could to be there for them.
It was odd for me to go to this funeral. The last three funerals or life celebrations I’ve attended, I helped plan. They were the core of my family. My grief lives on, long after any church service or get together. Yet after Vicki’s service, it became a time for my friends and I to reflect a bit on our own lives. What would our children or spouse or friends or family say about us? Would they say we were kind, a great parent, a good friend? Maybe. Would there be standing room only in a huge church? Maybe not.
Once I got home, I could only think of Vicki’s family, and what they were doing right then. Did her siblings cry themselves to sleep that night or drink until they were numb? I’ve been that sister and I did those things. Did her mother just want to follow her child in death? My father did. Did her children try to stick close to their father, worrying about him and wanting to care for him? I was that child and I worried, too. Did her husband even sleep that night, or does he just want to sleep all the time?
I don’t know Vicki’s family but I just wanted to hug all of them and tell them this sucks so much and you can call me whenever you want and I’ll listen until my ear falls off. But since I don’t know them, that probably would have been weird. And they don’t need this tall crazy woman hugging them and crying on them. They have enough to deal with.
This holiday season, don’t forget about those that have lost someone. This can be such a difficult time to try and celebrate with and for those around us and pretend to enjoy ourselves when we just want the day to be over with or to just be alone with our thoughts and memories and possibly a glass of wine. Try and understand if that friend doesn’t want to go shopping or she has to turn the radio off because Christmas music bothers her or he wants to skip the holiday office party this year. They may be able to do those things with you next year, or they might not. Just tell them you’re there for them and will listen if they need to talk.
And if they need someone to cry with, I’m always available.