Tinkling Springs Presbyterian Church, Fishersville, 2009
I suppose when you reach a certain age death is going to become a more constant presence. I don’t like to think I’ve reached that age, though. So the seeming omnipresence of death around me lately has been not only noticeable, but more than a little jarring.
Over the last several months my mother has teetered back and forth from death’s doorstep. Several friends and distant relatives have passed away. A beloved aunt died two weeks ago. Just this week two friends died and the mother of a third followed them. You have to wonder when a streak like this is going to end.
This past Saturday morning a combined funeral was held for my aunt and her husband, my father’s brother, who actually died last year, but whose service had been purposely delayed.
Funerals can be such iffy affairs. I’ve been to some that were incredibly touching and some that were unmitigated disasters. It might be hard to imagine how a funeral could be disastrous, but trust me, it can happen, and it doesn’t even have to involve any of the comedic hijinks you might be imagining. No caskets falling out of hearses on busy highways. No deceased persons poking their heads up from the dirt. It turns out a poorly prepared minister can trip into a minefield of horror the likes of which you’d just never think could happen.
The service for my aunt and uncle had none of that, fortunately. The minister clearly didn’t know the deceased. Their sons admitted that they hadn’t been much help in providing personal memories or anecdotes. This wasn’t a family known for the expressiveness of its emotions. But the minister got their names right and managed to piece together a series of thoughtful observations that dispatched the deceased off to the hereafter in good standing.
The real secrets came out afterwards. I’d never thought of them this way. But I’m gathering now that funerals are one of those occasions when, whether for vengeance or simple catharsis, people unload things they don’t know if they’ll have another chance to share.
Whatever the motives, and in this case I don’t think there was so much as a smidgen of malice intended, that’s what happened to me on Saturday. In the space of just a few minutes a woman who had never been any closer than four links away from me in relation, and that only by a marriage that has since ended, revealed to me two very important and personal things about my late father. Only one had to do with me directly, but both were events that if played out differently would have significantly changed the course of my young life.
But they didn’t. Dad’s been gone for fifteen years. And instead of this knowledge having enhanced my understanding of my father while he was alive, I only learned of them fifty years after they’d happened. I’m still trying to decide whether I’m glad I know these things now, or not.