Thursday, May 28, 2009

Two Funerals, No Wedding

Funerals, we know, are not for the deceased. Most faiths stress that as we shed our corporeal vessel, so too do we rid ourselves of our shortcomings and defects. Gone are envy, resentments, anger,  bitterness and bile. So the ones we mourn probably will not care whether we are in a place of worship to celebrate their passing, or fishing for catfish in the Severn River. He, or she, is above all this.

I will be attending two funeral services this week, one for Dale on Friday, the other for Beth the day after. Both were 12-step friends of many years' standing whose bearing, sobriety and behavior I admired. They passed on with grace and courage, refusing life support that would needlessly prolong their existences. They leave families, friends, memories of wisdom passed on.

I have been to a lot of funerals. The last of my parents' generation has vanished, and I was a pall-bearer more times than I can remember for war-time friends of my mother and father, people who had been there with them in Paris, Algiers and Tunis, members of the Free French and the Maquis, the French underground of World War II. Five years ago a sister died, and before that both parents. And there have been people of my generation as well, men and women who died prematurely, victims of illnesses and accidents, drugs, alcohol and carelessness.

I think a little part of the living vanishes with every death. We lose our families, our friends, the people we love and admire, and we are diminished. We are left a little lonelier, a little more bereft and a little less important with each passing. We get dressed for death, polish our shoes, bring out the suit we wear for marriages and interments and we become smaller in stature, for who are we if not the sum total of what others see in us?

Friedrich Nietzsche,  in Expeditions of an Untimely Man, wrote: "To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.  Death of one's own free choice, death at the proper time, with a clear head and with joyfulness, consummated in the midst of children and witnesses:  so that an actual leave-taking is possible while he who is leaving is still there." 

And from Mark Twain, "All say, 'How hard it is that we have to die' - a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live. "

Good bye, my friends.


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