My Father’s funeral came at the end of a 72 hour whirlwind. First, my sister Paula and I met with the funeral home people, then made a trip to the cemetery. Later, all of the kids met with the Pastors of our church to plan the service. In between were trips to the bank, long telephone conversations with County clerks and hastily arranged meetings with other members of the Death Industry. There was a viewing at the funeral home, a two hour celebration of awkwardness which is at the same time absolutely necessary, and impossibly uncomfortable. All the while, my neck was giving me fits, the bulging disks within made worse by the stress of the moment. By the time the funeral started, I was a ball of twitching muscles and riled emotions, dressed in a suit.
The family was marched in and seated in the front rows directly in front of the flag-draped casket. The service began with congregational singing, three of Dad’s favorite hymns. Paula then rose to speak. She was poised and delivered her prepared remarks with cheerfulness, which was a mood we were determined to project. We’ve had enough crying in our family over the last two years to last a lifetime so, enough with the crying. Then she and Donnie performed a beautiful arrangement of “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” My turn came and as I rose from my seat to head to the pulpit, I felt a twinge of jumpiness in my upper back just to the left of my troubled neck. Uh-oh.
I don’t remember much about my eulogy except that I departed from my prepared remarks too many times. There was a lot of laughter when I spoke, which later I regretted. Maybe I was too flippant? I sat back down carefully and listened to Linda speak. The amazing women who had directed Dad’s care every step of the way for two years was standing before me with a broad smile and bright confidence. When she finished, she sat down at the piano and banged out dad’s favorite piano song, “Chariots of Fire.”
Then, the pastor opened up the floor to any family members who wanted to say a word. First Christina spoke, then Becky, then Pam rose and finally Zoe. All of them were wonderful. Then the microphones were opened to anyone in the congregation who cared to speak. This is always a dangerous thing to do. But, with one notable exception, everyone was heartfelt and reasonably brief.
About this time, I began to feel very uncomfortable. Sitting still and trying to be somber had taken its toll on my neck and back. Suddenly, there was no position I could sit in that took pressure off of the spasm-ing muscles back there. I whispered to Pam, “I’ve got to go out into the foyer or I’m going to have a problem.”
So, there I was, walking out of my own Father’s funeral! By the time I made it outside, my back was a hot mess. I could hear my brother speaking and I didn’t want to miss it, so I took the elevator up to the balcony and spent the last 30 minutes of the service laying flat on my back on the red carpet gazing up at the ceiling, listening to Donnie sing an arrangement of “He Lifted Me.” I remember thinking how bizarre a thing it would be to tell my grandchildren that I was laying on my back in the balcony at my Dad’s funeral. For an instant I imagined that Dad was standing over me, shaking his head from side to side, laughing. “You never could sit still in church,” I heard him say.
So, two hours after it began it was over. It was too long. But, it was never going to be anything but… too long. The Dunnevants are a family known far and wide for their passionately held opinions and a famous eagerness to share them. Frankly, I’m surprised it wasn’t longer. But, I think we did alright. I think that Mom and Dad were proud of us, or at least I hope they were.