Posted by: Kate | May 8, 2008

Best Funeral Ever

Every death is sad, in some form, but not every death is a tragedy.

Mr. S was a case in point.  His death was very sad, all the more so because he had pulled through so many other illnesses, so many close calls.  He had spent the last six weeks in the hospital, first for pneumonia and then for emphysema and then for COPD.  Each diagnosis was progressively worse, and was treated with increasing pharmaceutical aggression.  By Friday, the doctors were congratulating him, and themselves, for beating a difficult and scary health threat.  They began making plans for a hospital bed at home, for transitional care to help get him settled in, for discharge.  For summer vacation and time with families and quiet evenings at home with no IV drips or meals from the cafeteria or ever-thickening charts.

Instead, on Saturday, he took a turn for the worse.  The doctors realized that in their efforts to kill off the illness-causing germs, they also killed off the beneficial bacteria, the ones that keep the digestive system in check.  Yeasts and other unpleasantness proliferated, and by Sunday afternoon, he had succumbed, massive organ failure, unable to reverse the process that was supposed to save him.

The family was, and is, shocked.  Here was a man who had recovered from a massive stroke not two years ago, recovering fully enough to return to his law practice at 80.  He considered “retirement” to be a vaguely distasteful word, not to be used in mixed company, though he had learned how to slow down and prioritize his family – to enjoy his family – in recent years.  His family had worried, but after recovering from the other ailments, he was developing an unspoken reputation for invincibility, for immortality.

So, then, yes.  Sad.  This was a man who was deeply loved and whose presence will be missed.

But it’s not tragic.  He lived a long, full life, and died surrounded by his family, who had time to reach his bedside in the last few days.  All four of his children have moved out, formed families of their own.  He found professional success in his chosen field, and had the house on the Cape to prove it.  Death is a part of life, a part of the bigger cycle, and even just a few days later, his family was working toward acceptance.

Mr. S was father-in-law to a close friend of mine, father to her husband, who is also a friend.  My husband and hers have argued over hockey and addressed the pesky beer oversupply problem for several years.  Our children are of similar ages, and play together.  So Willem and I headed down to Massachusetts for the calling hours, though we left the kids at a friend’s house for the evening.  I think it’s perfectly appropriate for children to attend funerals and wakes, but my kids would not have recognized Mr. S if they saw him on the street, so it made more sense to keep them out of the middle of things, especially on a school night.

And we had the best day.  We had some extra time in the early afternoon before we left, which was filled appropriately with the kinds of things that parents do when they find themselves with unexpected alone-time.  (We went shoe-shopping and went out to lunch.  Why, what were you thinking?)  We had an hour-plus drive down and back, and time at the funeral home in between trading platitudes and light chatter with mostly-strangers.

We talked.  A lot.  About intense stuff, and goofy stuff.  We talked about our families, and our friends, and the people who read my blog.  (Yeah, you.  Were your ears ringing?)  We talked about our long-term plans, and short-term ones.  We just talked, about anything and everything.  And I was reminded that I am fortunate and grateful to have married someone I trust and respect, someone I enjoy.  My best friend.

The same could have been accomplished with a simple date night, to be sure, but he’s in the middle of finals right now, studying and organizing and writing, and were it not for a major event he never could have taken a day off.  We’re planning a weekend in New York City at the end of the month, and I have every reason to expect more of the same then.  But it was a good day, a good evening, despite the circumstances.

A good man died, and his calling hours were a time for family to come together and for friends to appreciate his life, and each other.  I think that’s just about perfect, as far as a funeral goes.



  1. That’s one of the ‘good’ things about funerals is the people who turn up. So often it’s an emotional roller coaster, I’ve never cried as hard or laughed as much or caught up with people I haven’t seen for so long. Sad that it was a death that brought you together but as you say, a long life well lived.

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