I sit quietly in the pew, legs crossed, hands placed delicately in my lap. My head is kept down to allow the conversations to drift towards me. As people file in, the noise level rises as hellos, handshakes, and hugs are exchanged. The diversity of the crowd is appealing to observe. People from all over the country have flown in to say their final goodbyes.
I glance around to the groups detaching themselves from the crowd, averting my eyes when someone looks my way. I watch as two men jovially greet, laughing and hugging while a couple cries two seats away. I see others seated, eyes cast downward, feeling as out of place as I do. I glance towards a woman, head wrapped in a scarf. My immediate feelings are draped in sadness as the word pops into my mind. Cancer. She turns, ever so slightly, to reveal the full belly and I suddenly smile. I conjure her story in my mind, attempting to navigate the feelings of her intricate situation. I watch as she sits, beginning to cry, and my heart begins to ache.
The hymn begins and the crowd takes their seats. Booming conversations turn to whispers as we await the procession. The family slowly files in, some crying, others simply stoic. The coffin follows, adorned in gold silk. Tears threaten to fall from my eyes, but I force them down, embarrassed to cry for a man I have never met.
I mouth the words of the hymns, and dip my head in prayer to follow the crowd. My awkwardness in churches is ever present. Should I close my eyes? Do I say amen? What if I can’t remember the words to the Lord’s Prayer? Should I even say it? It feels hypocritical.
I continue to watch the crowd to calm my anxiety. During the first eulogy, a little boy, clearly fed up with the requirement to sit still and be quiet, begins to cry. I watch his mother, frantically trying to calm him down with a sippy cup. The boy responds by throwing it to the ground and I can’t help but chuckle. Luckily, I’m not the only one. The click of the mother’s heels fills the sanctuary as she unsuccessfully attempts to leave unnoticed. The child has won this round.
As quickly as it began, the funeral ends. The family exits with tear streaked faces as I attempt to portray the correct facial expression in case one of them glances my way. Do I look down? Do I wear a small smile of reassurance or will it look too much like pity? I file out of the church as quickly as I can, inhaling the fresh air, suddenly grateful to be outside. People mill about, not knowing where to go. The noise level rises once again as people prepare to go on about their day. The coffin is placed in the sleek, black hearse. The family loads into the car, and the procession takes off down the road. I stand in the dirt, awaiting the bus to take me back to the office. I stare towards the hearse, disappearing into the distance. I feel the anxiety fleeing from me and I smile. With one last look to the fleet of black cars, I recall his image, and give my final goodbye.
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