There’s a Funeral Today

My father-in-law died a couple days ago, and while it’s unexpected we still talk about how he didn’t suffer. People want to know how he died (we did the visitation thing last night) and there aren’t definite answers. There’s no autopsy. My husband said he died in his sleep. My father-in-law had struggled with breathing and his heart, and at some point everyone loses that battle.

My humor has run dark and biting – while my husband and I laugh my daughter looks at us and doesn’t understand why we’re laughing. I want to trot out that Heinlein quote from Stranger in a Strange Land about how humor isn’t a funny thing it’s what we do to mask the pain, but I’m also pretty sure she’s not ready for that. I hope my friends who have also encountered this humor understand.

While my husband and my parents weren’t the oldest when we were born (between 22 and 30), the grandparents were much older. (I think the youngest of them was his grandmother born in 1916. We both had grandparents born before 1910.) But when I remember these funerals, these ceremonies, most of them have blurred into that spot of not being able to remember someone droning on about whomever it was we lost. I remember, especially for my husband’s family, standing in a receiving line to speak to the many who wish to share their condolences. We did that again last night. I met people that knew my father-in-law well. It was a long line and we didn’t get a break to eat until after the stated time of the visitation. We sent the kids to run and play and when they got hungry we sent them to eat downstairs.

I don’t want to be remembered this way. Not like today, where a pastor will talk about the life and the family, and we’ll mostly just sit there and listen. I want to be remembered like my grandmother, even though that might be harder. My family got up and spoke- all of us, and anyone could go up there, or just stand where they were. We shared the stories that were important, that we remembered. (We did the same for my biological father.) I remember being engaged in these experiences, sharing in this idea of who they had been, and of the people who were my family and friends grieving with me. Also, I want an officiant who knew me, not a religious personage, one of my friends or family.

I had a lot of time in the car yesterday, between my home and my father-in-law’s, and the circumstances always lead me to wonder how much time we have. Nothing is guaranteed. Many of us don’t live to be old. I don’t ever want to get used to losing people, and I don’t ever want to get good at grieving. I have gotten better at delivering bad news- which is to say I plow through it, say what has to be said, and move on. So if you’ve seen me this week and I lead with ‘my FIL died,’ I’m sharing my grief. (Same for a friend who died two weeks ago. Same for the next loss that I hope is a long way off.) My heart is broken, and I can only repeat these words that communicate the bare minimum. If you ask, I can tell you my FIL didn’t suffer. I hear he died in his sleep. There are worse ways to go.

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