In a sense, a funeral is an opportunity to say farewell. And even though the person you’re saying farewell to can’t hear the sentiment, it’s (for many—myself included) a necessary process for accepting death, embracing (sort of) death, moving forward with life.
All religions handle this differently, but I’ve always been a fan of the methods applied by reform Judaism. First, we never have an open casket. Which is terrific, because who wants to see a dead body? I prefer to remember someone as they were, alive and vibrant. All the makeup in the world can’t bring that to a corpse. Second, we don’t delve into heaven, afterlife, etc. It’s not about where the person is going, but where he/she has been. What he/she has done. Who she/he has touched. Third, we eat like motherfuckers. We eat and eat and eat and eat and eat. Then we eat some more. And, when all the food is gone … well, it’s never gone. So we eat some more.
If you’re a recent reader of this site, you might know my father in law, Rodney Cole, passed a few days ago at age 81. So today was his funeral, and it hit all the marks. No open casket. Talk on where he’d been. Lotsa lotsa lotsa food.
But, even with those norms, it was … different. Rodney had this striking silver hair, and throughout the day I kept thinking I saw him. It would be a moment’s time, then I’d realize it was someone else with similar coloring. I also heard his voice over and over. Rodney was British, so his accent was unique here in South Florida. But on multiple occasions I genuinely felt as if he were speaking in the background to someone. Then, alas, I’d look to see … no one. And I remembered: Rodney is gone.
I think, ultimately, that’s the most jarring part of this ritual. A person is gone. Forever. He lived. Then—poof—he’s gone. He does not exist. His stuff remains. Photos remain. Recordings remain. But he does not. He doesn’t feel, taste, touch, smell. All the mannerisms that made him him have stopped being mannerisms.
I hate that. I mean, I really hate that. Which means the best I can do is remember, and tell stories, and explain the life of a good man who no longer walks the earth.
That’s how, in a small way, we keep the dead alive.