A tale of two funerals

My ex-wife’s brother in law, Jack, recently passed away. His memorial service, which he of course planned in advance, was in a very small white church in Tuftonboro, NH. After a stroke and many wheelchair bound years, he died peacefully in his sleep after bidding his caregivers good night and announcing he loved his family (and especially his wife). I was surprised to learn that in the days leading up, he also asked his staff and wife multiple times about me.

The last time I saw Jack was years ago at my daughter’s wedding. He wasn’t very friendly, but that was understandable as I’d been divorced and moved on from his side of the family for years. He had been out of sight but only partially out of mind, as I would keep tabs by asking my daughters how he was.

Upon news of his passing and of his last attempts to “reach out,” I’ve found myself thinking about Jack a lot. I even wrote letters to his wife and kids; not the “Hey, I’m sorry” kind, but letters full of deeper expression that they probably found odd. At one time Jack and I had a very meaningful friendship, one that grew naturally from many trials and tribulations, including the tragic early death of one of his daughters. Now I wasn’t sure how to close this chapter, but after my last letter I at least tabbed the page and waited for the service.

Memorial Saturday was an extremely hot day with streams of traffic to boot. The drive took forever, partially because I made a few “minor” wrong turns, but eventually my wife and I saw the outline of a little white church. The parking lot was full, so I knew this must be Jack’s. And honestly, I was thrilled, because the service was scheduled for 2 o’clock and it was 1:55 – this was probably the first time in my life I’d gotten somewhere with 5 minutes to spare (Jack always chided me saying as much).

We walked in and were greeted with a mass of sweaty people, exiting. “Doesn’t the service start at 2?!” I exclaimed to the first person I saw, to be informed that no, sir, this began at 1. I tried to blend in and looked around for a familiar face, but there were none. And just as I started to wonder if I’d finally reached the edge, I spotted the foyer table, bearing a stack of memoriams for a Barbara Smith. Even with the best intentions, I showed up at the wrong funeral an hour late.

We excused ourselves – not that anyone cared – and rushed back to the car amidst an outgoing stampede; Barbara must have been great. But if this wasn’t Jack’s celebration of life, where the hell was it? Five frantic phone calls, more wrong turns, and a mea culpa (or two) later, we were on our way to another white church. At 2:45 sharp we pulled up and sprinted to the door, just to find another congregation’s worth of humans exiting. The service was over, but no one noticed we hadn’t made it – well, almost no one (don’t ask). After just a few awkward moments on the church lawn, we got back in our car to go to the reception and both broke into hysterical laughter; who else but me shows up at two funerals and completely misses both? Believe or it not, that’s still better than my average.

Later that night as I lay awake for hours, I wondered: was this just an embarrassing mistake that would make a great story, or was it all part of Jack’s plan? Was this really my private requiem just for him?

Jack, my boy – in classic fashion you orchestrated your memorial, yet you managed to involve me so much. As I drove to church #1 I was on autopilot, making wrong turns as I mentally relived all the times we had, thinking how proud you’d be to see me there on time. I wasn’t in the congregation, but the memories flooding my mind are more than enough to make the trip worth it. It had been way too long, and this brought you back to life clear as day… the deceased are only deceased in body. I can truly say you are one of the best. Carry on in peace wherever you are… And sorry I’m so late.

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