Comforting the Living By Speaking For the Dead

John Clark with a slightly different theme today. Give me a funeral over a wedding any day. No expensive gift, no annoying DJ telling everyone who to dance with and when, nobody waltzing around snapping annoying photos, dress is usually more casual, and the food is often better.

With age, funerals come more frequently and are (sadly) often the only time you’ve seen anyone in years. I still remember my introduction to death. It was when I was six, of so and we received a phone call that our neighbor, Albert Dirion had just dropped dead in his egg room. He and Berta, his wife, were among many midcoast residents, my parents included, who raised laying hens back in the 1950s. Anyhow, I remember sister Kate and I trying to understand what had happened. Back then, TV wasn’t part of our lives, so we weren’t inured to violence and dead bodies like kids often are today.

My memories of funerals early on remains hazy, but are still crystal clear regarding my father’s and mother’s memorial services. Dad’s was months later, held on the same spot by Sennebec Lake where Beth and I got married 44 years ago. Kate and I led off, followed by old family friends who remembered their best memories of Dad. Mom’s took place at the Methodist Church in Union, complete with one heck of a pot luck meal by the ladies of the church. Again, Kate and I led off, me by saying that Mom was probably the only person anyone in attendance ever knew who deliberately shot a manure pile with a sixteen gauge double-barrel shotgun. Kate contributed something similar and we were followed by a mix of sentimental and downright funny, best exemplified by Paul the Goat Boy telling everyone he collected interesting and unusual friends with Mom at the top of his list.

Memorial services have increased considerably in the last couple of years and in the process of attending and honoring deceased friends, I’ve noticed something that should have been obvious a long time ago. Many families don’t know how, or are unable to speak about their deceased. Even when they are, the perspective of non-family members is often a healing moment they desperately need.

When my bookseller friend Lynn Oliver died in 2018, his memorial service was in North Anson on the same day as that of my high school classmate Donnie Hills. While they were scheduled two hours apart, the distance between them was such that I could only attend one. I went to Lynn’s because we had a more recent connection. I shared my friendship with him as well as the fun I had bringing books to his house and watching he and his partner, Joan silently debate what to offer for them. Even though a stroke limited his speech in his last few years, I always appreciated his cynical sense of humor, along with our mutual dislike of conservative politicians. I was one of three who spoke that day.

When I attended Harold Emerson’s service a year later, I was the only person to get up and speak, but the handshakes and hugs from his family as I was leaving, told me I’d spoken for many of them as well.

Earlier this summer, I attended three such gatherings in one week. Two were long time AA friends, Guy P. and Libby S. I worked with Guy at AMHI for over 20 years and we attended the same Sunday AA meeting in Coopers Mills until Beth and I moved to Hartland. Guy’s wife, Mary-Ellen taught our daughters to drive. Their oldest daughter was so grateful for the three of us from AA who shared memories of Guy and Mary-Ellen. It was an added bonus when the former wife of the best man at our wedding came up to say hello and we caught up on her Ex and our four daughters. I hadn’t seen her in more than 40 years.

Libby’s service was much the same with my getting to tell her grandson how much I liked and missed his grandmother. Once again, there were a couple old AA friends in attendance that I hadn’t seen since we left the area.

The writer in me is fascinated by some of the undercurrents that happen at these events. At one, I learned how much the brother-in-law held a son-in-law of the deceased in contempt. Saying that he was a self-serving blowhard. At another, everyone was apprehensive about the possible arrival of a grandson who was actively abusing alcohol and drugs.

I share this with you in hopes you will take the opportunity to stand and share tour memories of a friend, or acquaintance sometime in the future. You’ll never know how much your words will comfort the survivors.

I’m now a blogging member at Young Adult Outside the Lines. Check my review of a recent book about Washington County from last Sunday.

This entry was posted in John Clark and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply