Celebrating Life with a Pocket Full of Death

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonderandhome.com

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12 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    When friends of mine get married, I get invited to the wedding. When loved ones of friends (that I’ve only met a handful of times) have funerals, I get invited to the funeral.

    As such, I go to a lot more funerals where I only barely knew the person than I go to weddings where I only barely knew the person. This allows me to have a job, of sorts. Run to McDonald’s. Make sure the kids have some food. No, not a Happy Meal. Ice cream, though. HOW IN THE HELL IS THE ICE CREAM MACHINE BROKE. THERE’S A FUNERAL. Okay, extra fries, then. We’ll stop by DQ. They have better ice cream anyway. The wake is after the service? Better stop by the liquor store. Get some scotch. Some of the good stuff. Tastes awful but you don’t want to be enjoying it *TOO* much after a funeral. Make sure that there’s food in the fridge for the hosts who have relatives staying with them. An extra box of Frosted Flakes. An extra gallon of milk. Help collect the flowers after. Help keep tabs on where everybody is.

    Go home. Feel bad for your friends… but this is a person you’ve only seen a handful of times. The hole in your heart is for your friends. Not for you.

    Be glad it’s a funeral where you can help, rather than one where you need help.Report

  2. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    “Enough crying, let’s go eat” though. There’s a lot of truth in that. Most of the funerals I’ve attended in recent years have been fellow congregants; often I wind up in the kitchen afterward, helping serve lunch to the family. It is something you can do, I think, something for the family and to honor the memory of the one who is gone.

    I remember my maternal grandmother’s funeral (the only grandparent whose funeral I was old enough to attend). After the funeral, lunch in the fellowship hall of the old Congregational church my mom attended growing up. And lunch….lunch for the family is good. It takes away the need to choose a restaurant (if you’ve traveled) or cook (if you haven’t) and removes the question of “what do I pick to eat,” which is sometimes a little too much when you’re grieving.

    I always think of that first experience with a funeral and bereavement when I go serve a meal to a family at church. At this point I’ve paid it forward well, but I will still do it.

    This summer we lost my dad. I was not prepared, and still am not prepared, for how far-reaching that grief was for me, compared to the thirty-years-ago loss of my grandmother. I don’t know if it’s because of the sheer proximity (he was always there when I was growing up; we saw Grandma maybe twice a year) or that I’m 30 years older or that it seems more “normal” to lose a grandparent than a parent.

    Because of timing difficulties getting family together, and of his wishes, we had a memorial service at Thanksgiving. I find those a bit easier – the grief has cooled somewhat – but it was still hard. And at first, my mom had said “No, I don’t want you to trouble to do a lunch” to the group at her church that offered (though for years, she cooked food and sometimes served it when it was someone else’s service) but in the end she relented and said yes, let’s do that. So we had pulled pork (egg salad for the non-meat-eaters) and salads and potatoes and I think there was pie? But yes, it made it easier, made it possible to talk with people (relatives I’d not seen for several years, one of my dad’s former students that I hadn’t seen for 20 years) because people stayed and ate, rather than either scattering, or having to litigate where we go to eat.

    Yes, funerals are hard. But they’re also important: at both my grandmother’s and my dad’s, I learned things about the people I had either never known (some stories from my grandma’s younger days) or had never really thought as unusual our outstanding because they were so commonplace to the person (my dad’s devotion to helping students, especially so-called non-traditional students in an era when few accommodations were made for them, and again and again notes were read talking about how he had helped them and guided them, and in some cases they credited him with their decision to stay in school….)

    But yes, I hope it’s a long time before it’s another funeral of someone I’m close to.Report

    • Food is so central to grief, as you have written about before so well, and it’s no wonder its a part of funeral services. I always make a point to thank the workers who do the food at those things, you just can’t have community things for folks without volunteers with a heart to do them.Report

  3. Beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing it with us.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Good piece Andrew. Brings to mind some photos a social media site brought to my attention in ‘memories’ this past weekend. A couple of years ago I went to New York City twice in the span of about 4 months for funerals. One for a cousin my parent’s age, who was still too young, and one for a high school classmate, who was *way* far too young.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Nice piece.

    I’ve already told my children that if they’re interested in my wishes there will be no suits and minimal organization. Jeans or shorts, depending on the weather. Catered BBQ. Good craft beer. No god-bothering; he/she/they already know what they need to know.Report

    • Thank you Michael. And BBQ is a very respectable grief food.Report

    • Avatar Reformed Republican in reply to Michael Cain says:

      My dad was buried in jeans. He never wore slacks, if he could help it. There was also a pair of cowboy boots in the casket with him, because those were his dress shoes.Report

      • I confess one of the memories I wish I could expunge surrounding my dad’s death, even as I’m sort of proud of myself for being able to step up and take charge….he had chosen to be cremated, and when we went to the funeral home to finalize some plans, the director asked my mom, “the pajamas he was wearing, do you want us to wash them and have you pick them up, or do you just want him cremated in them” and from the look on my mom’s face at that moment, I knew she was not expecting that question and was not prepared for it and could not deal with it then, and she just shot me what I interpreted as a desperate look, and I manged to croak out “leave them on him” because I didn’t think I could face driving back there to pick them up the next day, and then what would we do with them?

        So many of the things surrounding death and the logistics of dealing with it were things I had never even remotely contemplated, and the logistics make it seem harder than it already is.

        I’ve joked that if I knew I was fixing to die, I’d try to get out to the remotest forest area I could think of, and even if I had to CRAWL, get as deep into the woods as I could, and just die there, and hopefully by the time I’m found, issues like “what clothes would we put on her” will not be an issue.

        sorry for the morbid memory but as I said, I keep hoping to be able to expunge it and maybe by telling it to more people I can?Report

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