I was told last week that my cousin Susan's husband died of a massive heart attack. They lived in Appleton, Wisconsin and had three children. He was 44 and a really terrific guy. So I flew into Milwaukee, met my brother who lived there and drove up. My other brother flew in from Columbus, Ohio. People were grateful we came, but it didn't really occur to me not to go. Maybe it was because he was so young, or that it was all so sudden, but I just felt I should be there.
The service was done at the funeral home. Paul was cremated and his ashes were placed in a box that his children helped make and decorate. It had their three handprints on it and "We love you Daddy" written on it. That was hard. But not as hard as seeing the kids have to be taken out halfway through the service with tears in their eyes.
Wisconsin is a pretty Catholic state I realized. The signs that all said "Friday Fish Fry" outside the bars were a good hint. The memorial ceremony was a Catholic one, but without communion. I have been to a bunch of Catholic funerals as a police officer, so I knew the drill. I even took communion at them, so I didn't stick out. It turns out I'm apparently going to burn in eternal hell for that.
And as I sat and listened to the priest deliver the homily and sing the psalms, I had a thought. I don't like Catholic ceremonies. In fairness, I was baptised Protestant (I think) and grew up going to Unitarian Sunday School, so I guess that's the religion that I identify with most. The only time I usually go to church is around Christmas to the one near my parent's place because they have live animals in the pagent.
But unsurprisingly I suppose, Catholic funerals are all about God. God didn't make this happen, but don't worry because the deceased is with God now. God is love and all you need to do is look to God to feel better and be made whole. The grieving family is told that they should look to friends for comfort, but really the Holy Trinity are the ones who will bring you the most comfort.
I call bullshit. Sure, many may turn to God and say that it's his will. Or that now they get to hang out with their parents or kids or whatever. But I think that's all just a way of putting your happiness and thoughts in someone else's hands. Very religious. Don't worry about anything. It's all God's plan. So just relax and be a good person, and Heaven is going to be awesome. Here's what I would have said at the front of that room:
"Paul left us far too soon. And it hurts. And it's not fair. And there is no way to spin this so it makes sense or makes the pain go away. But that pain isn't a bad thing. It's Paul. It's his memory. It's our sadness at losing an amazing person. So we mourn and we cry and we ache. And we live with that for awhile. And then time passes and the brain moves to other things, because it needs to protect us from hurting so much. And yet, as it does that, we catch ourself feeling guilty that we're not thinking of the person or not feeling those "carpe diem" moments like we did right after their death.
So how do we reconcile our sadness and our inevitable moving on. We honor that person. I think everyone that has kids should teach them something that exemplifies Paul. And let them know where it came from. Change your behavior or influence others so that the person lives on in you. Then you don't have to worry about not thinking about them, because there's a piece of them in you at all times."
I had a friend from college, Erin Schlather, die at 26. And one of the things I loved about Erin was how she could listen to you and make you feel like you were the only one in the room, no matter how loud it was or how many people were around. She would lock eyes and just listen, not hear, but listen to you. And I have tried to copy that as best I can when I listen to people. I'll never lose Erin. She's a part of me.
Goodbye Paul. I'll carry you with me too. Thanks for giving yourself to me.