When you reach a certain age you find that it gets easier to keep track of and see your friends. You simply meet them (one way or another) at the funeral home.
If you’re a frequent reader of Press Pros you know my penchant for straying editorially from the subject of sports. It has to be done sometimes, on some topics…things that need to be said, things that others wish would be said, and yet things that no one seems to want to say.
You know how psychologists are characterized when they say, “You want to talk about it? You’ll feel better.” That’s how I feel sometimes…often times…on politics, culture, and recently, on the subject of death and dying.
It’s dark, sure enough, but we all have to deal with death…the death of neighbors, friends and family, and the reality that our own will come before we know it or want it. If you read it, the Bible actually says that man’s instrument of death is set before he even draws his first breath. Really! Psychologists never deal with that one. They just hand you a bill for time spent and tell you to have a happy life.
I write about these things because I’ve had an epiphany recently…for the fact that, yes, death does come before we know it or want it. Three neighbors, Geary Fraley, John Gerhardt and Don Yingst in the past month. Four, counting my next-door neighbor, in the past year. My dad died last year, and three close friends from his generation…within a month of his passing. My high school baseball coach.
Some you predict. Others, you shake your head over and accept it as a part of Providence. An epiphany? I counted…there have been 24 in the past year!
Providence, the Divine plan of having all things happen for a reason and in their own good time, is hard to understand. And never more so than last summer and a chance meeting with a seventh grade classmate from my boyhood home in Lawrence County. Many know that my family moved to Miami County in 1965 from a small rural hill community outside of Ironton, Ohio. I’ve been removed now 47 years, and Connie Freeman, the prettiest girl in school back then, and the secret crush of every boy at Windsor Jr. High, helped me catch up with the names of my youth.
Of the approximately 30 in my school community on “The Hill” (WJH actually sat on a high prominence) a third are now gone…from car wrecks, cancer, farming accidents, one was killed while working in a steel mill, another a victim of a robbery attempt. Others, while still living, have tragically suffered the loss of a child…to car wrecks, military service, and suicide.
“We always wondered what happened to you after you left Windsor,” confessed Connie. “We wondered if you were still living. We don’t have class reunions anymore. It’s too sad. It’s easier for everyone to see each other at the funeral home. It’s what we do now. Seems like we’ve done it since we graduated. It doesn’t seem fair. But it’s good to know you’re still with us.”
Humbling! But at 60, Connie Freeman was right. It’s what we, you and I, deal with now. Skip the plans and the pleasantries. Just meet me at the funeral home. Three weeks ago I went back to Ironton for another funeral…our fourth grade teacher…and the news that another member of the class from Windsor was imminent with his date with mortality. I expect to go back, again, in a few days.
I have numerous family members who enjoy a good funeral for the fact of their faith in it being passage on to eternal life and happiness. I believe that, too. But I also confess that I hurt over these things. I obsess. I can still visualize the happy faces of those with whom I shared my childhood in Willow Wood, Ohio, circa 1965. I confess that I have the same sense of loss when I hear of another passing as if I’d never left there…loss for the fact of losing a friend, yes, but those 47 years away, as well.
I confess that I no longer go to calling hours, or rarely. For the fact of having the right clothes, said Connie, it’s just too expensive, anyway. “I’ve worn out two pairs of black pumps going to funerals,” she admitted. “I’m not buying another.”
I confess that group grief at a viewing is now more than I want to handle. I prefer one on one time when it’s mutually convenient. I’ve shared a couple of good cries with friends that way in the past year that I could not have done in public. The psychologists are right. It is therapeutic.
They say it’s a good time of life, of retirement plans, of seeing your children’s lives fulfilled, their life plans…of enjoying grandchildren. Yes, to all of that. But there’s no guarantee. Ask those members of the your own graduating class…of mine. Count heads in your own community…the empty seats at the next gathering. Check the elbows and the seat of your black suit, hanging in the closet for those special, but in reality, not-so-special days. Gettin’ a little shiney?
When we were young death and dying used to be sad, yes, a tragic fact of life. But you looked forward to the day after, of picking up and moving on. Now, at my age and the age of my contemporaries, it’s more like a black cloud looming on the daily horizon. You hope for the next day, but you know it comes with an asterisk.
I’m preparing as I write for another trip, another funeral. My “black pumps” are packed. I, too, will never buy another pair.
It used to be fun to shop. Now, it’s no pleasantry at all. It doesn’t really matter what you wear. No one’s looking, anyway.
If they are…they haven’t “lived” long enough.