I went to a funeral today.
This is not an ideal way to kick off the year, a funeral in January. Of course it is significantly less bad for me than for the bloke who died, whom I will call Reg even though we all knew him as John. A top bloke, sadly not with us anymore, hence the funeral.
There is a process involved in preparing for the funeral of someone you really like. You hear that Reg has passed away, which in itself is a strange phrase: passed away? Makes him sound like he's Conrad Smith flicking the ball on to Julian Savea to score in the corner. It is a phrase that is both underwhelming and yet precisely the absolutely right amount of emotional information you need at that particular point in time. He's what? He's passed away? That is about the level of engagement I can deal with, right then. The more you can make this death an abstract concept, the more it works for me, at this stage of emotional events.
Then comes the need to help. If you're at all like me then you won't know how to help, because you won't have the super-powers that can rewind time to change the death outcome. That's my manly approach to life, to want to try to fix stuff.
Yet, in this case (and countless others I'm sure) it is the women who man up and get the emotional hard yards done. Administering hugs and sympathy; negotiating the pathways between laughter and tears, while at the same time organising chairs and catering and flowers and candles and the whole machine that kicks in when we kick the bucket. I am happy to be the guy who carries the chairs from the delivery truck into the hall because I feel like I'm doing something real, to help - I leave the rest to the experts.
Funerals hold a great fascination for me, as I have realised over the past few years. I don't think this is simply the inevitable result of advancing age and the increasing frequency of funeral invitations, but because I believe funerals (certainly in this case) represent the best there is in humanity. Today we remembered Reg's life in the best possible way, with talk and song. Today people spoke of Reg in the most glowing terms you possibly can at the same time that you are also wonderfully acknowledging all the flaws that made Reg a real human, just like the rest of us. There was laughter; there were tears. The best, the best, the best, the reason we persevere and the reason we hope.
For me there is a process of preparing for a funeral. I've been to a few over the past few years - a great woman who was a mentor to me; some friends taken too soon; my parents - but always the mantra has been the same: I will not lose my shit, not in public. This ideal that we should tough it out and box in our tears, hopefully to a level that is deemed appropriate, is something I actually don't mind. A room full of people wailing and gnashing? I can't be dealing with that because in the world where I live grief is shared in much more subtle ways.
So today, I walked into that hall not wanting to lose my shit. I raised my deflector shields to their full "I will not cry" status. And I failed, but not miserably. During speeches; during songs; during poems; while reading the order of service; even during that bit that could go horribly wrong where the celebrant invites people up to speak and everyone holds their breath in case the mad relative starts talking about spaceships, I also cried. Except I wasn't miserable in my crying/failing, because the bits where my shields failed were not about death, they were about life. A wonderful life.
I went to a funeral today and while I was there people talked about a wonderful life.
And yes, I lost my shit. But when I did I made sure I was right at the back of the room, where no-one could see me lose my shit and therefore somehow tarnish the cool, macho image I believe I have with the people I know in that room.
I went to a funeral today. For Reg. And now I realise maybe it wasn't the worst way to start the year because now I want to live. Live! Death? Screw you. Yes, okay, you will win in the corporeal sense in the long run because the game is rigged that way, but while I have sway I will say but one thing to you: "back the %#& off, grim reaper dude!"
So adios Reg and kia kaha Mel.
With love. J.
Damn, lost my shit again.