I don’t want to talk as much. It’s nicer to think dear, pretty thoughts and keep them in one’s heart, like treasures. I don’t like to have them laughed at or wondered over.
– L. M. Montgomery (1874 – 1942), Anne of Green Gables, 1908
You create your opportunities by asking for them.
– Patty Hansen, Prevention Magazine, 11/05
Funerals. It seems I’ve seen a billion of ’em. My father served as a funeral director for much of my teenage years, and I helped out occasionally. Drove the family car once or twice. Stood solemnly and greeted relatives and friends as they shuffled past, looking worn out and void of hope, wearing polyester suits and smiles. And I know the agenda. The quiet hymns delicately plinked out on vintage organs. The 23rd Psalm. The Lord’s Prayer. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
And always the words spoken. Some confident and strong, but most of them choked out between heaves and sobs. Tears, wiped away with Kleenex plucked from tiny cardboard boxes or pulled from pocketbooks or blouse sleeves. There is generally an order to these things. First a close friend or minister, the appointed Master of Ceremony. A eulogy, read from tattered notecards, by a close family member or friend. Then an invitation for any and all to stand and share if they feel so led. It’s a precious and spontaneous proceeding where laughter and tears mingle. An embarrassing story. A favorite joke. A lasting memory.
Even knowing all this, I missed my cue. Now that I’m older, it’s sometimes hard to hear. Is it now? Should I wait? Let others go first? Time eternal in the blink of an eye. I’ve never been good in now-or-never situations. I let them pass far too often. I overthink. Try to gauge the moment and end up letting it pass. Afraid to interject my will upon something that feels ordained, orchestrated, and beyond me and my skills or insight.
So, as is my way, I sat still. Silently. Reverently. And the door closed.
What would I have said? I had given it considerable thought. I could have mentioned to Adam my desire to say something. Anything. Nothing formal or written down. Just off the cuff. A few sentences strewn together that would have summed up so much of the eddy in my heart.
I would have said how weird it felt, to meet someone for the first time, face to face, after they are gone. How there is no way it is possible the made-up, prissed-up person in the glistening casket could ever compare to the majesty of someone in the flesh, breath to breath, bone to bone, spirit to spirit. How the shell can never truly represent the person inside.
I would have spoken very briefly, but with a passionate belief, in the power of online relationships. How, even though two people may never breathe the same air, or sit at the same table, they can share the world. How it is true that, while two people may not ever see the little things and be bothered by them, or rejoice, with a nod and a grin, in the ways those little things sometimes best define a person, there are nearly always larger, more meaningful things afoot. How this is an acceptable tradeoff. And how many relationships would benefit from digging into the dirt and finding a sturdier common ground. How there is a happy dichotomy here worth exploring.
I would have said that I carried upon my shoulders the love and admiration of so many others who couldn’t be there. Those who had also crossed digital paths with Stacy and felt the same tug of her soul. How, though the room breathed with wall to wall life, there stood in the periphery an unseen legion of hearts and minds who were touched by her life. How it was an overwhelming honor to bring to her this love and respect as a final and lasting tribute.
I would have shared, with her family and closest friends, how she saved my life. Not in some vague way, but in the way that is personal and without walls of ambiguity. How her, and so many others, reached down to me when I was at my lowest, and offered a hand up. Even amidst their own pain and loss. Even though it meant going beyond a well-intentioned word or pithy platitude. Even though it meant opening up their scars, to bleed again, to relive a very personal, pit-strewn path. And how every unsteady step I take these days is upon the backs of friends who have decided to join me in looking up to see the hope scattered amongst the stars.
I would have said thank you. To those who helped mold and shape the beautiful space she embodied. To Stacy, for being both pliable and yet so solidly and boldly herself. To the fates, for allowing our journeys to intersect.
I’d like to think I would have said all that. Maybe not in so many powdery words, but with the same spirit. With my heart in place and beating strong. Alive. And in stepping away from the podium, trembling but lighter for having taken the risk, Stacy would have been proud . . .