“Always go to the funeral.”
This was something my mom has told me since I was little.
"You might feel awkward, you might not know the person who died but your presence is enough for the grieving." She would say.
Over the years I have chosen to live by those simple words.
Some funerals I had to miss. Miles away, a pandemic, a newborn. But when faced with a choice to go or stay.
I choose to go.
The gypsy funeral in Romania. The visiting of a man in his final days. His earthly body suspended between life and death. His family sharing the same bed to stay warm in the freezing temperatures.
A true Willy Wonka scene.
Crowding into their one room plank-framed home. Singing worship songs with a guitar we had carried miles on our backs.
Prayers of healing requested, finding ourselves instead praying for a peaceful exit from his corpse-like body.
Trudging through the snow the next day, to find his soul departed, his earthly frame now moved to a plastic plank.
His widow howling. Gypsies shoving Denarius currency into his life-less hands.
It's the humility of staring upon that casket, the strength in the grip of a weeping mother.
It’s the procession of the community, carrying his body up that cold hill.
It was the tired community members joining in from their homes, trudging up that beautiful hillside.
It was watching them carry the one flower arrangement they could scrounge the money up for.
It was the sound of dirt hitting his plastic casket, the young boys taking turns throwing in that earth as we all watched in silence.
It was his widow wailing loudly, clutching a tree, grasping onto us, not letting go.
It was Grape Fanta placed into our cold hands as we trudged down that hill, a true luxury.
It was watching that cross get pounded into the ground, finally feeling safe with the true stench of death.
Years later it would be my mentor and father figure Curt Sloan.
It would be his sudden death. It was only hours before hearing him tell me of his desires to have a New Orleans Jazz Funeral, with puppets.
The next morning it would be pushing down my worry when he didn't show up to the office, only hours later to hear that voicemail from my aunt;
"Oh Honie I am so sorry. Are you OK?
Me panicking, screaming;
"What do you mean? Curt can't be DEAD?"
It would be me calling my dad frantically, him in Fiji with his soon-to-be bride, knowing the news would send daggers through his soul.
Pacing that Quicksilver parking lot, hearing his wails on the other end of the phone, him oceans away, his grief palpable.
"He's my BEST FRIEND. He's my PERSON. HE CAN'T BE DEAD!"
It would be that Washington Square party with beer and drinks at his favorite bar in downtown White Bear Lake.
The bar he would meet my dad at every Thursday night to listen to live music, the bar I would frequent as a kid and eventually as a broke college student for the free dinner and cocktails.
It would be my dad still going through with his Mexican wedding, knowing full well his best-friend, the man who was always his First Call wouldn't be by his side.
It would be holding his widow. It would be celebrating her birthday in Mexico only a few short months later, 50 balloons, birthday candles, us attempting to laugh through the pain.
It would be holding my childhood friend Rosalyn, not knowing what to say except,
I love you and I LOVED your Daddy.
Later that same year, it would be my grandmothers funeral, nonexistent, yet still including beers by the rock she crashed her car into.
My aunt choking out a cry-laugh saying;
"Goodbye Mom." Pouring her drink onto the ground.
Later that same year it would be yet another funeral, this time a young woman I grew up with who lost her battle to depression.
Her funeral out on their gorgeous family farm. Her sister singing beautifully in remembrance of a life lost too soon.
It would be moving out to Montana, our baby Selah enclosed in a cement box in our trunk.
It would be my husband building a memorial cut into our quiet Montana backyard.
It would be him crying out to those who didn't want to see us leave;
"Please just be nice to us, our baby is in the trunk."
Years later it would be a woman I had only met once but was immediately drawn to.
Listening to her tell me about her adult children, making me feel loved, and laughing as I danced silly with my husband at the Great Northern Bar.
It would be only days later that she would lose her battle to depression.
Again, a funeral outside on the family property, her adult children singing and crying. Delicious food underneath the beautiful healing mountains.
It was sitting on a blanket with my girlfriends, listening to our dear friend read a letter to her mentor.
Later, it would be flying to Seattle with that same friend holding her as she wept after losing her nephew.
It would be sitting with her only a year later and crying out to God in prayer, as we prayed for her dear brother who had lost two sons and was simply tired.
It would be only days later finding out he too had lost his battle.
It would be a pandemic, the questioning of when to have a memorial.
It was making that beautiful 3.5 hour drive to Helena, Montana.
On my way to celebrate a life well lived. My friend's precious high school daughter sleeping soundly in my passenger seat.
Driving through that red rocked canyon, listening to her chatter on about her uncle, her cousins, music, college, her dreams.
It was arriving at her brothers property surrounded by the beauty of mountains, high on the cliffs, glorious sunny weather for March.
It would be listening to that same friend read another letter she had written, this time to her brother.
It would be holding her once again as she cried.
Feeling proud of her as she spoke beauty into the ashes at his service.
It would be hearing that 21-gun salute, the trumpets reverberating off the cliffs.
The flag folded beautifully and handed to his mother. The fire pit, feeling enclosed by a blanket of stars.
It would be driving back home, to my healthy family, feeling that forever pull between grief and pure joy.
Feeling thankful for the wide open spaces of Montana.
Thankful for my health.
Thankful for my family‘s warm home.
And thankful for the wise words of my mother;
Always go to the funeral.