RIP "Nessie," (1953-2013) friend and fellow-traveler from out of darkness.
It’s better to be alive at the funeral so you can say out loud, for the family's sake, she looks "beautiful," in the way bodies rarely do laid out so, thinking inside as you walk back to the pew, "She's not really here, so where did she go" (even if that's what lots of folks think, so it's not original); where do we go once we're not really here? And not feel strange for the wondering, for once just being glad to be thinking, while the preacher prepares to tell us where we will or can go, while many of us might not believe it.
It's better to be alive at the funeral so you can say "I don't feel like crying" and wonder why that is, and then cry because Joseph, your mutual friend, calls himself her "Road Dog," who's 65 and served two tours in Viet Nam as a Marine, rode with her to AA meetings seven years and toted her oxygen tanks, joked about being dead already too many times to count, and breaks down reading from the Book of John, as she'd asked him to as she lay dying: “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you, “ when he could not go on for a full minute, saying "I miss my friend." So you, too, weep.
It’s better to be alive at the funeral so you see those folks not seen in years, some not really friends, not missed until now, others now missing, and you wonder if they're dead, apart from funerals you've already been to these past 10 years (you try to catalog their names). Then you wonder, who is next, could it be me? No, not me. So you sneak a prayer you half-believe, first for yourself and then for Maxwell, who came up behind you at the coffin, asking where you've been, and you hugged him, thinking, truly, he might not survive this summer, his wasted body brittle within your hug, his head heavy on your shoulder. You think, what’s killing him--what's killing me or any of us? Outside, when her coffin's wheeled out, you gather outside in groups and mingle, smoke or chat, or listen in, retreating back into time, the sped up clock, the three score ten, at best, approaching fast, planning tomorrow, this weekend, this summer's coming. Really intending it (again).
It’s better to be alive at the funeral so you can leave this church, in late-April mist with no umbrella, let the felt hat soak, the raincoat streak, return to work. Miss a bus, not caring as much as yesterday, and wonder if it really matters what you do or they do or anyone does or doesn’t do, at least for this moment. See the faces on the street, at the bus stop, on the bus, along the route outside, a Pound haiku comes to mind, "petals on a wet, black bough," you're thinking, "What have I done, what am I doing, what will I do for this moment but breathe, listen to that breath," while four language trilling becomes birdsong among these riders, no eminent death, no pestilence, no political significance. So go on ahead, for whatever you think it's about, the truth is it's better to be alive at the funeral.