Observances of a Final Goodbye

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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35 thoughts on “Observances of a Final Goodbye

  1. ugh ugh ugh I hate funerals so friggin much. I lost my last living grandparent end of March so it’s still very fresh for me. you captured the essence of being at a funeral mass perfectly.

    1. I always feel awkward at funerals. I hope that when I die, my family follows through with my wishes of not having one.

  2. Um why were you there if you don’t know him? Who was he?

    I can’t deal with anything when it comes to death. i don’t know the necessary words to extend my sympathies. I can’t school my face into a proper expression when I am confronted with grief. So i often come across as cold and unsympathetic.

    1. He was the co-founder of my law firm. I’ve only worked there for about a year and he’s been sick pretty much that whole time so I never met him.

      I agree with everything in your second paragraph. I have no idea how to act when it comes to death and grief.

  3. I am with you on the not wanting a funeral. I’m not Irish, but I would love a wake. Drinking and music and rememberances. I want to be creamated so nobody has to walk to the front of a room and kneel next to my waxlike dead body to pay their respects, either. Worse than funerals, in my opinion. Who wants to chat in the presence of a dead body? Shudder.

    1. I am also in the cremation corner. I have been to only one visitation with an open casket and it terrified me! I don’t ever want to do that to my friends and family, whether they want it or not. Haha.

  4. You wrote exactly what I feel every time I go to a funeral (which, luckily, isn’t that often) that isn’t a close family member or friend. I never know what to say, how to act, what to do with my hands, how to treat the family.

  5. When I attended my Grandma’s burial my husband and I tried to alleviate the emotional heaviness by making zombie jokes (quietly to ourselves of course). It was in this way that I discovered my Great Uncle had a similar sense of humour (he overheard us and said something along the lines of “thank God I thought I was the only one…”) It’s impossible to prescribe any one way to deal with grief, or interact with those who are grieving, because everyone deals with it differently… 🙂

      1. Oh gosh… what have I started. I don’t recommend broadcasting them. I’m pretty sure zombie jokes would be #1 on many peoples’ “what not to say at a funeral” lists…

  6. I love all your beautiful details. Funerals are always awkward when you don’t know the person too well. And they’re downright awful when you did. I love how you described that awkwardness so well by showing us what it felt like to be in that church.

  7. I think I make other people uncomfortable at funerals because I generally cry a lot, whether I knew the person or not (thinking about my own mortality, etc). So they make me uncomfortable for acting socially inappropriate, and it’s a vicious cycle. In that way, I TOTALLY get what you’re saying.
    Fabulous storytelling, by the way. 🙂

  8. You are such a great storyteller! Awesome descriptions of a not so awesome event.
    I really enjoyed this post.

  9. so hard.. for everyone. no one feels comfortable, no one wants to be there, although we all always think it’s just us, unsure, and on the outside awkwardly. beautifully told.

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