Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lessons From Death

I promise that I will not turn this space into an "all-bereavement, all the time" blog. First of all, you would tire of it quickly, second, if I don't snap out of it soon, my mother will visit me Jacob Marley-like and "tan my hide" as she used to warn me that she would. But a person doesn't go through this sort of death without learning a few things about life. The lessons have come fast and furiously.

1. The day after the funeral, I had to run by Mom and Dad's bank to deposit some money. I used the drive thru, since I don't bank at Suntrust myself. When the teller, a black girl in her twenties saw the checks she cheerfully inquired about how my parents were doing. When I told her that Mom had passed away, she instantly burst into tears. She then gathered two other tellers around and they all told me how sorry they all were for my loss and what a wonderful woman she was. As far as I know, Mom's only connection with these women was her once or twice a month trip to the bank. That they would be so moved at her passing floored me. Who WAS my mother?

2. The funeral home and cemetery business are about the creepiest industries imaginable. Although, they were both very helpful and performed with the highest degree of professionalism, I was floored by the cost, but even more by the level of soft salesmanship involved. The funeral home guy appealed to every vulnerable emotion raging in me with practised skill. I found myself questioning just how much I truly loved my mother if I was not willing to place her in their top of the line sealed 20 gauge steel casket, and titanium-lined crypt. At the cemetery I discovered that even in death we humans still hold on to our pride of place and status. There were different neighborhoods in the cemetery, the estate section featured lovely walking trails, and a fine gazebo. Other sections were essentially the bad parts of town...too close to the road, no lovely statues of middle eastern men or over sized open bibles to be seen. Of course, just like in life, to obtain an upscale address required a significant "investment". This bombardment, all in one bizarre, surreal day turned me into a puddle of weakness and guilt. What kind of son was I if I wasn't willing, regardless of cost, to provide my mother the very best? An ugly, brutal business, a monument to human pride and vanity.

3. As I watched the over 300 people stream through Bliley's the afternoon of the viewing, I realized that I have a lot to learn about being a friend. I like to think that I'm a good friend, but I saw people in that line who made me ask a difficult question of myself..."If their mother had passed, would you have gone to her viewing?". One thing that I noticed throughout the weekend was that the people who came through the most for us were invariably the ones who had themselves lost someone dear recently. They had spent lots of time on the road that we had just begun to walk, and it showed in their amazing sensitivity, and acts of kindness. Before, I always hesitated to go to viewings because I had no idea what to say. I now know that it doesn't matter what you say or if you say anything at all. Just seeing the face of a friend means so much, and warms your heart when all around seems so cold.

4. I have often made flippant and unflattering comments in this space about my church. I take NONE of them back. As a member for 25 years, and as a Dunnevant, I have earned the right to criticize. However, with criticism comes the responsibility of praise when  it is due. My church family was truly amazing. They showed up with hot meals, cards, phone calls. Mark Becton and Chuck Ward were everything that Godly men should be but often aren't...wise, tender-hearted, and professional. The reception put on for us after the service was a feast of mostly made from scratch dishes, by caring, hard-working people who went above and beyond the call of mere duty. The reason people shouldn't church-hop has never been made clearer than it was this past weekend...after 25 years, your church transforms itself into something more than a place of becomes a beautiful extension of your family.