View Full Version : "Always Go to the Funeral"

Roy Tucker
08-12-2005, 11:56 AM
I heard this on NPR the other day and it stopped me dead in my tracks.

Maudlin or corny maybe, but it's just one of those simple truths of life that seem so obvious yet so hard to do.


Always Go to the Funeral
by Deirdre Sullivan
All Things Considered, August 8, 2005

I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that.

The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. "Dee," he said, "you're going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family."

So my dad waited outside while I went in. It was worse than I thought it would be: I was the only kid there. When the condolence line deposited me in front of Miss Emerson's shell-shocked parents, I stammered out, "Sorry about all this," and stalked away. But, for that deeply weird expression of sympathy delivered 20 years ago, Miss Emerson's mother stills remembers my name and always says hello with tearing eyes.

That was the first time I went un-chaperoned, but my parents had been taking us kids to funerals and calling hours as a matter of course for years. By the time I was 16, I had been to five or six funerals. I remember two things from the funeral circuit: bottomless dishes of free mints and my father saying on the ride home, "You can't come in without going out, kids. Always go to the funeral."

Sounds simple -- when someone dies, get in your car and go to calling hours or the funeral. That, I can do. But I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals means more than that.

"Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex's uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

In going to funerals, I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable, occasional calamity.

On a cold April night three years ago, my father died a quiet death from cancer. His funeral was on a Wednesday, middle of the workweek. I had been numb for days when, for some reason, during the funeral, I turned and looked back at the folks in the church. The memory of it still takes my breath away. The most human, powerful and humbling thing I've ever seen was a church at 3:00 on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people who believe in going to the funeral.

08-12-2005, 02:13 PM
Thanks for posting this Roy. That was a nice story. Something to remember.

08-12-2005, 05:36 PM
It's really true. I grew up not thinking very highly of the town that my family currently lives in. My Dad always lived there, so I grew up spending weekends there.

Always thought of it as a place that just breeds alcoholics ..... because that's what I knew.

That little town came together like nothing I've ever seen when my sister-in-law passed a couple years ago. They held a benefit for her and everyone just pulled together for the funeral. I realized how highly thought of she was. Shared a lot of stories with folks who told me that calling hours used to be held in the home where the body was placed in the living room in front of the picture window.

I still have a few chips on my shoulder, but I realized there was a lot of good there too.

08-12-2005, 08:10 PM
Man! Thanks Roy. You don't know how that hit home with me. Not so much with me, but it reminds me of my brother who would never attend funerals for various relatives. We always felt it was his innate fear of SEEING death. He would always say "I wish to have my last memories of them when they were alive, not lying in a box not looking very much as I always saw them." I didn't have a hard time disagreeing with that line of logic.

Then, 7 years ago, our own Dad died from cancer. It is still hard to fathom and get over. I still miss him terribly. And being the oldest boy I somehow feel I must now take on the role my father filled within that household. Heavy shoes to fill.

I still remember the funeral home that day. It was packed with so many people - old and new friends, relatives and acquaintences for over the last 50 years. I looked around and it reminded me of the impact/influence my Dad had on people. I can honestly say, and several people mentioned this to me that day, that my Dad left this world with no enemies, but a multitude of friends. And it's funny - when I still see some of them around various places, somehow my Dad is always mentioned in any conversation we may be having.

Thanks again Roy.