Funerals are places we expect to say “Goodbye”. Today, I realized that funerals are sometimes a place to say “Hello”; to be introduced to the most unlikely person in the room: the deceased. At the funeral of a friend’s father, whom I’d never had the opportunity to meet, I felt him brought to life through the eulogy and the reflections of one of his lifelong friends. The task of summing up a life of more than eighty years in a few minutes, is a monumental and daunting one. Sometimes it is said that in these final tributes, the rough edges of a person life are polished down. Today I didn't find it so. My friend’s words, delivered through hard-checked tears, painted the main points of her father’s life in a way that let me draw the lines between them; to give me a full picture. The keys, among many others, to this happy life were family, community service, a strong work ethic, participation in the political process, new challenges at any age. It was a tribute filled with sadness, pride, and appreciation of the legacy left by her father to the family and the wider community.
A reflection from a friend, with whom he’d grown up, followed. The friend spoke, without notes, drawing on his long memory of their lives together. I recalled a time when I accompanied my father to the funeral of a man Dad had been friends with for 75 years. He too was able to eloquently recount anecdotes and events with ease. He spoke to deeply embedded memories, woven together in the fabric of shared lives in ways that can never be undone. When old friends speak, each story connects to another. In this way, the picture painted by my friend’s tribute, was further highlighted with the rich deep colors of her father’s life. Through these collected stories, I could see from where she had drawn her own values, her sense of social justice and her warmth.
Funerals are mostly the same in terms of the process; we know what to expect, the general order of the service. But, the point at which relatives and friends share insights into the person they knew best is the place we are afforded a unique opportunity to understand the life of someone we never expected to meet.
It is a strange place to finally say ‘Hello”.