Summing up a life

The funeral was today. As expected, it was difficult. As an empathetic person, I felt sadness all around me. There were pictures of her scrolling on the tv the entire time. And wouldn’t you know it, every single picture of her with a birthday cake in front of her was all smiles of pure joy. This woman loved her birthday and her birthday cake. She loved all desserts, really, Ice cream maybe the very most, but I have never seen her turn down a dessert.

Due to the harsh circumstances of the military, I missed so many funerals. My great aunt, my grandmother, my other grandmother (although it wasn’t that big of a deal to me since she was a terrible person), and I think someone else? But I can’t think of who that was. Someone unimportant, I guess. Maybe if I lived near family where I grew up, I would’ve gone to friends’ parents’ funerals. I did go to a couple of services for people my wife knows, but none of that was open casket stuff. So that made today only my third time being present with an open casket. The first, I was 5, the second, 20, and then…much older than 20 years old. Somehow it doesn’t get easier. It feels surreal.

I remember when I saw my grandfather in the casket when I was 5. He looked like he was sleeping. Girl asked me today if she was sleeping, like could she just whisper “wake up” and she would wake up?

“No,” I said quietly. “She’s not really there. Her soul is gone from her body. Some people think your soul goes to heaven, some people think it’s back with the universe, but whatever a person believes, her soul is gone from her body.”

Girl looked up at me perplexed. “But why does it have to go? Why can’t it just stay here and eat desserts with us?” Cue the tears…

This sweet moment was before the service, but after we’d been there about 45 minutes. Prior to this moment, we had walked in, she threw a fit and refused to talk to me. Boy #3 said she was upset because it was always my wife and me, and they were just left behind. In a moment of no possible way to win, I attempted to explain it to her. That there was no leaving them behind, but that I wasn’t going to force them to walk up to the casket until they were ready, if ever, but at the same time I could not let my wife walk up to the casket alone. I cannot be in two places at once and if they weren’t ready, all they had to do was sit until we were done at this casket. Girl slumped into a chair with her hood up over her head looking down after she told me that she wanted me to leave her alone.


We eventually found seats for the service and I bribed Girl to come forward with my phone. She angrily sat down and then my wife’s step-father came over to see how he could help. He took her for a walk and they talked about candy and what was going on and he returned her in an improved mood. At that point, Boy #3 had started to cry. So off he went with Nicest Man in the World to talk about candy, death, and whatever the heck else. Girl turned to me and wanted to go to the casket. It was unexpected, but I gladly took her up there, telling her that she only has to get as close as she wants to. To my surprise she stepped right up.

I tried not to think about all the services in her future. Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, us. You don’t want to think about that pain she will face in the future. But it still crossed my mind.

The service was lovely. There was a stranger retelling of her life by the woman leading it. She didn’t seem to grasp the concept of maiden name versus married name, and she had some things factually wrong. Minor things, but still. It was slightly bizarre when she was wrong, but not as bonkers as the cousin who stood up to speak when the open invitation was given. This cousin has no grip on reality.

For starters, she talked all about the cat that went over the rainbow bridge in the fall. Uh, what? That cat just moved into my wife’s mother’s home a couple days ago. That cat slept between my wife’s aunt and uncle last night. I can’t even begin to explain the litany of oddities that came out of this woman’s mouth. But then the clincher…later on I heard that she thanked my wife’s aunt for “coming to this funeral.” WHAT?! That was her mother, of COURSE she’s going to be at the funeral!!! There’s something short circuiting in her brain. Then I find out that no one even likes this cousin, especially my wife’s grandmother. How detached from reality can a person be that 1. They think they had a close enough relationship with someone who didn’t even like them to be the only one to speak up at the service, 2. They have no clue what happened to the cat when everyone else knows the cat is still living, and 3. They thank the daughter for coming to her own mother’s service like they were hosting it. So odd.

But all of this has me thinking…how do you sum up a life? How do you do it justice? I guess it all comes back to that one line from Hamilton…who tells your story? What pieces get left out? What secrets did you carry with you that no one knows? What do people forget about you that is eventually lost over time?

I think I want my story told in terms of my failures. A genius with so much unfulfilled potential and lots of grades that weren’t As that still got into the same college as a bunch of other really smart people. Or the freak who had no plan for after college who fell into the Air Force and fell even further into an ROTC commission and spent 20 years fighting pointless wars. Or the person who took 40 years to truly find themselves. Or the person who sucked so much at parenting that they stopped reading all the parenting books and started winging it. The person who tried so hard to keep their marriage together until they no longer could and fell into love with the world’s greatest wife. Every time I look at my life in terms of successes, I feel like I fall so short of what I could’ve been. But when I look at all the things I failed at and the resulting awesomeness that followed, I realize that no matter what, I came out on top. I think there is even more awesomeness in my future and I will get to it in my own time. There’s no need to race for it right now. I will get there exactly when I am supposed to.

PS-I wore my new fancy coat and gave it to a guy to hang up for me at the coat room. When it was time to pick up the coats, I went to the one I thought was mine, but the color was more grey than black, and it just didn’t look quite like mine. It was very upsetting until I realized the person that took my new coat actually left me a fancier coat! So that’s a win, I guess. Except mine was new and I’m not sure this one is all that new. It’s not ratty, but it’s not worn for the first time, like mine was.

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