Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

“Yours is the last dad,” she stated emphatically. Yes. All my friends’ dads have passed away. Of our generation, there is one mother and one father remaining on the planet and then we will be the top generation. That is a rather sobering thought.

On the eve of her father’s funeral, we were practicing her eulogy at the church. Performing your father’s final tribute is no easy task, but especially when emotions are high, and you are standing in front of your friends and family in church with a booming microphone before you. “Speak more slowly. Breathe. Pause.” I was the instructor of her orchestra for the evening in this empty church. It was like a dress rehearsal before the real thing. “Is there too much detail? Do people really want to know that?” she asked. I urged her on with the presentation of the details, knowing that most of us find out important things about a person through their obituary or eulogy and, sadly, not beforehand. We practiced her eulogy more than once and then went out for Thai food in Hampstead Village.

On the Monday morning, it was showtime and, fortunately, not raining. The darkly-clad were arriving at the church on foot, then the funeral hearse made its way slowly up the hill. Even the most chilly-hearted find the first sight of the coffin quite overwhelming. Her dad’s was a wicker/taffeta style, a bit like a super-sized picnic hamper. Lovely cream flowers ordained the box. The church was lit with candles, flowers were everywhere there too. This was a beautiful celebration of life for a long life well-lived. And it’s hard to argue with the passing of a youthful nonagenarian who was cracking jokes right up to his final days and making things easy on all around him.

“Does this thing do Netflix?” he famously asked of the nurse when she started hooking him up to machines. “Lift your leg please,” the nurse asked. “There’ll be a small charge for that,” he responds. The priest himself noted that this particular funeral was fit for a king. “I’m sorry for all of your trouble,” he spoke to the mourners, remarking that religious or not, it is still hard to come to terms with the loss of loved ones. Wherever you think your precious person might be going, it is still hard to let them leave. There was a packet of seeds inside the program of services — such a lovely touch I had never seen before.

And the services all went beautifully. Of course they did. Gorgeous music and hymns, readings and, naturally, a perfected obituary, well-rehearsed and perfectly presented. As the people piled out of the church, it was lovely to see the generations of friends and relatives greeting one another in the commonality of grief and loss right next to the coffin of their loved one. These are never easy days. The days right after are even harder perhaps, as everyone carries on with their world, goes back to work and home; and you are left standing there with your bundle of sorrow that, if anything, gets stronger before it lessens and lightens. Or, at least, that was my experience.

Before my sister Rosie passed, nearly six years ago, I had never appreciated how important custom is, how culture plays such a key role in the process of acceptance, of closure — for want of a better word. Rosie was buried before sundown on the day she passed, as is the custom in her adopted country of Turkey. “You won’t make it, sis,” she had told me, and she was right. I had known in advance of her wishes to be buried under the customs of her adopted country in the graveyard next to her father-in-law and her husband’s daughter, but I still crashed royally after she went away. There was no preparing for services, no choosing hymns or flowers, no music selection or adding small details to the program to make it just so. In short, no final tradition that is acceptable to our culture and helps us then move on with our lives.

I thought I was going to be fine with it. I wasn’t. Though we had a celebration of life after the fact — that I imagined would help, it didn’t — I still felt enormously cheated by her exit from the planet, both the cause and the design. I shall be mindful of that when planning my own final services — not to be maudlin, but to spare my family unnecessary distress. As many details as possible need to be managed — songs, music, food etc. all chosen, so the living don’t need to stress about the minutia in addition to everything else. The less they have to choose, at that point in the proceedings, the better, in my opinion.

After the services, it was time for the repast at her sister’s house. Lovely sandwiches, chocolate covered strawberries and more, beautifully served at her lovely home. For those of us mostly in the garden, the rain stayed away and blessed dad’s gathering.

We are on the funeral circuit, no doubt about it. Our other school friend is planning her mother’s final services, mindful of her parents’ religion and wishes. Her mother will be joining her father in his plot. And that is a difficult thing to do if you are not of the same mindset; but it’s important. That person’s wishes must be followed. “I cannot wait until this whole thing is over,” she commented, as she gainfully plows through the order of service that must be followed in line with the doctrine of that church. No one teaches you this stuff at school, there is not a course you can take in order to pass the test. Fortunately, our friend had a model to follow, a program to copy and all would ultimately be well. Funerals are for the living after all. It is their way forward in life with a nod of respect to their heritage and a lot of love and memories all wrapped up together for their person who passed.

My friend is very tired after the week that was. Now to help her mother move on with her new reality and their new family dynamic. Another large job lies ahead.

As my mother would fondly say: “All will be well.” And it will be.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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