On Sunday, I will attend the funeral of a woman I have known for most of my life. I’ve written about how sad it is to lose a young mother, at mid-life, and how I just cannot make sense of a death like this.
But some might say that I have no business at her funeral because, to be honest, we weren’t really close in recent years. We were acquaintances who had a shared history from long ago. When we ran into each other, we hugged fully and deeply and smiled with recognition for the person in our path.
Several years ago when she first battled her illness, I made a meal for her family while she was in the hospital because I felt that if I could be useful, it would mean something, despite so many years of just not being in touch.
When someone dies, regardless of the details of their passing, there are people who were close and automatically there. And then there are people who show up as if out of the woodwork, and some naysayers will wrinkle their nose and wonder aloud why that person bothered to come now, in death, when they were not there, really, in life.
But who are we to say?
You’re right, I was not in the inner circle of Randi’s life for most of adulthood. So be it. That does not make her any less of a fond memory and a bright connection in my life.
Her mother was my son’s preschool principal. I’m friends with the whole family on Facebook. We are one degree of separation in so many directions.
My associations with this woman are many and far, and it’s not about glomming on because someone young died and I want to be a part of the train ride.
Death is a strange roommate. When it moves in, we respond in a variety of ways, and there is really no explanation, no derision, no room for judgment, for any of them.
The funeral on Sunday will be packed with hundreds of people – many of whom probably hadn’t seen Randi in years. But if they feel compelled to come and wish her well on the next part of her journey, who am I to say they – or I – shouldn’t?
Death ignites in each of us a realization that life is not eternal, that some day each of us will depart and we all hope we will have made enough of an impact that our lives weren’t for naught.
I once attended the funeral of a woman I met once, who was my father’s friend from youth, and whose son I knew. No close connections there, I just felt I should go.
And I wept at that funeral, shaken to my core – rippled with thoughts of my own parents and their inevitable end, musings on what the son must be feeling, the grandchildren. I didn’t weep for losing a close friend for she was nowhere near. I wept because death inspires us to think of our own mortality and of the one-days of the people around us.
I don’t think it’s right for me or you or anyone to dismiss a person from partaking in the mourning when a person passes. We all must grapple with the vivid realities of being human, of walking upright, of breathing in and breathing out so many times in a day.
That last breath is a scary eventuality that most of us don’t want to confront. And so we kiss goodbye and cry for those who meet it before we do. For ourselves, for those left living, and also for the ones we’ll never see again.
The other day, my husband and step-daughter and I hiked the grounds of Cranbrook under the setting sun. The air pulsed with cricket song and except for the distant rumble of classic cars cruising Woodward, we embraced the silence of the trees.
We descended a dirt path to the grassy knoll, and hefted up the winding trails to the amphitheater, to the Oriental garden, past the still pond.
Eventually, we came to the last steep hill that led us back to our car. I always leave that hill for the very last, a final push of heart-beating in my ears and breath heaving hard.
We made it to the top and emerged to the clean sky above. My lungs lifted and sank, and I breathed rapidly, trying to catch up with my uphill pace.
It was a beautiful night. I had learned that day that a childhood friend had died after a failed lung transplant and I thought, “I am so grateful I can take deep breaths.”
If she hadn’t left us that day, I might not have recognized the sheer gift that is life, in all its possibilities. And that’s why I’ll go on Sunday, to send her one last hug and smile, to comfort her family, and to remember how fleeting life really is.