[Lynda’s note: I originally wrote this post for a creative nonfiction course in January 2010, after attending the funeral for the mother of one of my dearest friends. Her mom’s 85th birthday would have been yesterday, so in memory of a lovely woman, and for the love of a dear friend, I thought I’d re-post this now that I have my own blog going. It’s a familiar pain, as it’s been 28 years since I lost my father, and 15 years since I lost my mom. Thankfully, she’s still in my head, but I’d rather have a phone call and a hug. Catch you later. L]
I drove through the fr(eezing f)og on this blustery January morning to attend a funeral. I had only met the woman twice — once, in early September, at the funeral of her husband of sixty years, and the second time in mid-December, when I went to lunch with her and her daughter, a dear friend. My friend has had a hard time of it lately, losing both parents within four months as well as undergoing major surgery of her own just last week. Sometimes there just are no words. It was a Catholic burial service. I tried to mimic the words and actions of those near me, an alien creature trying both to blend in and to not insult anyone with my ignorance of the ways of the masses. I don’t believe it worked, in part because I was without my used-to-be Catholic husband to provide the appropriate cues. I finally settled for gawking like a tourist on a drive-by bus, mouthing words along with the natives, trying to learn by rote.
What touched me this day, however, was neither a question of faith or the mysteries of the afterlife. It was the people I saw on the side of the road on the way to burial. Moving from the city center to a country hillside cemetery, we drove at a crawl, lights on and funeral flags flying from the top of the cars. Along the entire route, no matter if the streets were multi-lane or barely two, car after car after car pulled over as the ash-gray hearse went by them. More than merely yielding a green light to the procession, drivers from all directions stopped still in the road or at the side of the curb. These people had no idea who the person in the hearse was, nor did it matter. I had forgotten this tradition, or maybe I am just not used to seeing it anymore. Perhaps it was just that the drive was long and I was alone. But it reminded me that sometimes you don’t need the right words. Sometimes it is enough to stop, even for a moment, on the side of the road.