A week ago, I had planned to go to a friend’s funeral. We were not extremely close, but we had crossed paths many times and had academic and friendly conversations. If nothing else, I would come early to speak to a couple of family members I knew and leave. At least I could do that.
As the time came for me to get dressed and leave, I sat quietly and didn’t do anything. Maybe I needed a nudge. But I don’t think it would have helped. I think I had a temporary case of funeral exhaustion.
I have been to five funerals already this year. I went to two funerals on the same day the week before the latest. This is not a “woe is me” tale, because I enjoy being alive; others have so much more to deal with. But sadness piles up when you get a steady diet of seeing the grief on the faces of your family and friends.
A couple years ago, I went to more than 35 funerals in one year. I actually attended three funerals — over six hours — in one day. What our soldiers and military physicians must go through is unimaginable.
But there are other things at work when attending so many funerals. In addition, as the frequency of the funerals grows you also see on the mourners’ benches fewer of the people that you grew up with. They are ill, infirm or have passed on, too, many times without your knowledge. You’re watching past and present shrink before your eyes.
It’s not just the loss of close family members that hurt the most.
Psychologist Molly Ruggles hits the nail on the head, saying “It’s important to understand for some, the loss of a friend can be more impactful than it was a family member.”
I get that. Many of them are the people who cared about you, but more so, they really knew you and you knew them. Some of them could finish your sentences or tell other folks your likes and dislikes. They knew you when you couldn’t tie your shoes or spell your name.
I don’t remember my parents going to as many funerals or maybe I just didn’t notice. My grandmother rarely went to funerals. I wonder, had all her family members and friends died so many years earlier?
That Sunday, the day after missing the funeral I had planned to attend, the world got the news of the untimely death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash. The sudden nature of his death drove home the constant vulnerability that all of us face.
It’s interesting how the unexpected death of someone famous strikes so many so hard, as opposed to the guy down the street or the cousin across town.
A friend of mine stressed a point: Unlike when we were young, our circles of friends were steadily growing. Like her, my friends spanned every section of Baton Rouge and other parts of the state and far-flung across the U.S.
She explained that for a number of reasons those circles have shrunk dramatically, and replacements are not coming into the fold. So, each loss is a bigger deal than it would have been 20 years ago.
But as I gear up for the next funerals, I know that changing times give way to doing whatever I and my friends can do to live. My close friends and I talk about that often. We always look for ways to laugh and dance together.
There is a Peanuts cartoon that speaks to the efforts of me, my friends and others. Charlie Brown and Snoopy are sitting on a dock looking out into open waters. Charlie Brown says, “Some day, we will all die, Snoopy!” And Snoopy responds “True, but on all the other days we will not.”
Email Edward Pratt a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column at firstname.lastname@example.org.