The most beautiful funeral

Yesterday I attended the most beautiful funeral.

It was of a woman I did not know; a friend’s mom.

Her name was Nettie Perez—86-year-old mother to four, grandmother to four, wife to one. According to the program, Nettie “worked many different jobs through the years from picking in orchards, packing houses, aerospace manufacturing and cleaning homes. She worked tirelessly to help provide for her family. … She had the ability to put worries or concerns at ease with her loving words. Her faith in God was a tremendous one. She gave her life to God and is now in the arms of glory.”

As I stood on the neatly cut grass of the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, I found my eyes wandering and my thoughts scattered. It is a strange thing, mourning for someone you’ve never met. The sadness is real, but the connection is not. In a way it feels as if you’re playing a part. The people to your left and to your right—they’re hurting. There’s a hole, and they feel it in the way you touch a boiling pot and feel the burn shoot through your hand.

You, on the other hand, are legitimately sad for your friend. But your life is unchanged. The funeral ends, you drive off largely un-impacted.

And yet …

That’s not actually what transpired.

In my 48 years, I’ve attended roughly 20 funerals. I’ve attended funerals with open caskets; funerals with a sparse number of attendees. I’ve attended funerals for grandparents, for friends, for colleagues. I’ve attended funerals where people struggled to summon kind words; funerals where the pain was palpable.

This time, I attended a funeral that featured a nine-piece mariachi band.

Yes—a nine-piece mariachi band.

The men—outfitted in requisite black suits—stood roughly 50 feet from the casket, and played one beautiful, enchanting song after another. The music grabbed me; held me; personalized everything I was beholding. There were probably, oh, 50 of us watching as the casket was lowered into the ground, but I felt as if I were on my own island, connected via haunting sound to the moment and connected via haunting sound to this woman I did not know.

The music evoked pain. It evoked joy. It reminded me of an opera, but also of the Tupac Shakur line: “Throw a party at my funeral/let every rapper rock it.” All the attendees were wearing masks, but the singing served as a connective issue; as a breaking down of a physical barrier.

In other words: It was beautiful.

I felt the loss.

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