When my Dad passed away 8 years ago, there were a lot of people who attended his funeral. Hundreds I want to say, but it was a pretty big blur. The emotion of it all, giving a eulogy, worrying about whether sleeping 4 month old Josh would wake up from my Aunt Cathy’s shoulder and freak out, and dealing with 23 month old Zach’s separation anxiety was a lot to deal with; so some of the details are sketchy.
I do remember talking to many many people. I spoke with people there that were his closest friends whom I knew well too; people who I had never met but had heard stories about; people I had never met but they had heard stories about me; people he had workeed with years ago; or people that had just known him briefly but he had made some deep impression on them (and there were a lot of those).
Then there were the people who he loved or admired, who he had spent a great deal of time with at some point, but they had not connected in a long time. Maybe they were busy or just let life get the better of them. Or maybe they had had some falling out – details of which I’m sure were long forgotten, but silence had still prevailed. But they were able to make the time, or make the trip, or unbusy themselves to come to the funeral. It was touching. It was thoughtful. I know he would have been pleased that they were there.
But man oh man did it irritate me.
“He would have been even more pleased if you had skipped the funeral and made the effort before he died”, is what I thought to myself.
I had an interesting discussion with one of my closest friends Tarina today about exactly this. She lost her Dad this past year and encountered the same thing, and had the same irritated reaction. She noted how we often treat people “in death” much better than “in life”.
She has vowed to “Act in life as you would in death”.
Have you ever noticed that we sometimes treat the memory of someone better than we treated that person in real life? Or how we treat the memory of someone we loved better than how we treat our loved ones who are still living? How we find time to make the funeral, but were too busy to visit on a Sunday afternoon? That we would send flowers to the funeral but forget to leave a message for their birthday when they were alive? That we would talk fondly of someone after their passing but be too prideful to make amends with them while we are still living?
My little cousin Jenn (or fondly called Auntie Jenn – she actually is the “real cousin” to my ex, but we have stayed very close so she is like a little sister to me) lost her Dad, Chris, this past spring. It was devastating for her, and even more heartbreaking that she had lost her Mom almost 10 years ago when she was only 13. But what was also tragic, and still is to this day, is the family drama that occurred. Over the years hurt feelings were had all around. Words were spoken, then never spoken again. Of course , when the angel of death was lurking, family quickly came around the bedside to make amends with Chris and of course, tender words were spoken with him. I think it is fair to say that he passed feeling at peace with everyone.
But at what cost? The drama continued with the other family members the second the funeral was over. He lost out on years of family life. Most importantly, Jenn was denied the love and support and family she desperately needed – and deserved – over the years and still needs.
Making the effort only at death is inexcusable. If you are planning on attending someone’s funeral, then you better darn well be making an effort in nourishing your relationship while they are still living.
I know it is not easy. I know that things can be complicated. I’m sure every one has their reasons, justifictions, feelings for doing what they do, or how they do it. But short of serious betrayal or murder (this is Tarina’s criteria!) there are few real reasons that justify alienating, abandoning or severing ties. Being hurt is not a reason. Being offended is not reason. Being insulted is not a reason. Being busy is not a reason. Get over yourself and communicate and get through it.
We are going through some serious family dynamics now with Rob’s family. While Rob is not perfect (well – he is pretty darn close), he has been trying to work through some issues with his brother and has been unsuccessful. It has caused him much sadness and I hate seeing him like that. Of course there are different perspectives on everything, but I know his heart is in a good place and he has been consistently trying – so what more can he do?
His brother just had his first baby and the baby’s middle name is David. David, is Gabe’s middle name as well. David was Rob’s brother who tragically passed away at the age of 24 from complications related to a cancer he had beat. Obviously, it was devastating to all and affected everyone. But obviously both brothers want to keep his memory alive by naming their first born sons after him.
Yet, how is it then possible that they will honour the dead, grieve over the loss of a brother – yet not have a relationship with the brother that is still alive? Is that honouring David? Is he looking down and pleased that he is being honoured in this way?
I don’t really care what it takes to get things back on track. I do have a firm belief that issues need to be dealt with head on. I am not someone who sits back and sweeps things under the rug, or buries their head, or passively pretends that nothing is wrong. I’m not that person – anymore. I’ve been there and done that – and will never do that again. The solution is always open communication. Always.
If you would go make amends at someone’s death bed, or attend someone’s funeral, then you need to make it a priority to make that person a priority – now. It may be hard work. You may need to jump through some hoops. You may need to swallow your pride. But do it. Don’t wait.
Act in life as you would in death.