The Funeral of a Ordinary Man

Funerals can fuck me up a bit. First, there’s the sadness of it all. The finality. The “never agains.” Never again will I hear her voice, see her smile, bake cookies together, hug, kiss, or talk with her about the weather. For a dear friend of mine who lost her husband recently, it was those simple moments that’ll never happen again—for her, those were the most difficult. Not the two week honeymoon trips or seeing your child get married. Certainly there’s loss associated with the never-again-major-life- events, the ones that provide lasting memories. But for her, it’s losing the ability to take the dog for a stroll and simply ask, “How was your day?”

After the sadness, comes fear. Fear for myself, asking my inner voice, “How much time do I have left” or “How will I die? I hope it’s not cancer.” And fear for my loved ones, imagining the prospect of losing them. The visualizations become so realistic, it’s terrifying.

Not quite like that, Bitmoji. It’s not a scared-of-serial killer clowns terror. It’s a curled up in the fetal position, rocking and hugging myself, cinder-block-on-my-chest terror. The kind that’s so realistic that you can’t imagine how’d you be able to go on living with that sorrow.

Yes, Bitmoji, like that. Now I know, Dear Reader, that the funeral is not about me. I get that. A funeral is supposed to be about: accepting the finality of the death; celebrating and recalling the life of the person that passed; and to support one another through the grieving process. No matter the intent of a funeral, my mind typically goes elsewhere. I’m not selfish and I’m not a narcissist. But at times, I just can’t seem to control where my mind wanders.

But you do have a certain control over how long those thoughts stay in your mind, no?

I do, Bitmoji. A certain amount of control, not absolute. At least I haven’t found how, anyway. It’s not like I can just push an off button or swipe left on the offensive thought. It’s a whole process. An ever changing process, usually consisting of fits and starts that on one day will work and on another, a dead end. And they’re aren’t any set rules, except:

  1. Catch yourself early. Recognize you’re ruminating and come back to the present, the sooner the better. Once you’re swirling, it becomes harder and harder;
  2. Physical touch. Hugging and snuggling. At least, for those of us with this Love Language. For the other Love Languages (Words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and physical gifts), check out the hyperlink for ideas; and
  3. Meditation. It always helps, but the efficacy is varied. Sometimes it takes several sessions to get relief, sometimes it’s immediate. What’s the trick? Who fucking knows? If someone out there knows the key, help a brother out, por favor.🙏

In my previous relationship, I was frequently inside my head, as the present day scenario wasn’t fulfilling, or even enjoyable. Instead of my ex and I turning towards each other, I turned inward. The second reason this funeral was different? It stayed squarely in the celebration-of-life category, something I really don’t recall in previous memorial services. There have been many other services that focused on this celebratory aspect, but grief was predominantly present.

But you know what? None of that was required. This funeral was a bit different, for two reasons. First, I was accompanied by my wife. Having a supportive partner, someone you genuinely enjoy spending time with (regardless of the situation), makes a heck of a lot of difference. Sitting in the church pew, resting our heads against one another, occasionally—and discretely—joking around with one another? We just truly like being in each other’s presence, and that energy is more powerful than whatever environment we happen to be in.

Jack was 90 when he peacefully passed away, the sun brightly shining into his hospital window. I knew Jack over 30 years; he was the father-in-law of my best friend Terry, someone I’ve known since 1979. Geez, that seems like a lifetime ago. But it’s obviously not a lifetime, as I’m still alive and kicking, writing this blog. And I haven’t been reincarnated, to my knowledge.

The point is, it’s been a considerable number of years that have passed. And over those years, several chapters have been written. Several movements in a musical composition; distinct stand-alone divisions that make up the entirety of my life.

I don’t even remember the first time I met Jack. It was like he was just always there. And anytime there was a family gathering, he was there, flashing his trademark smile. In all those years, and all those social gatherings, I never witnessed a frown or a harsh word. He was perpetually happy and positive; he loved his family immensely, he was grateful, and it plainly showed on his face.

Let me tell you ‘bout Terry. Or Teeeeer (said in sing-songy voice, emphasizing the “eeer”). Or more commonly of late, just “T” (you develop a lot of nicknames when you’ve known each other as long as we have). I met T right before sixth grade, playing Pee Wee football. We were good friends from the start, but rang in slightly different, often intermingling circles. It stayed that way throughout high school, but when the musical movement of my extended college years came along, we kinda fell out of touch with one another. Six years and a few hundred miles tend to do that. Flipping forward a bit, we reconnected after college. Every time I came home (my post-college job was in Virginia; he lived in Pennsylvania, my home-state), a visit was mandatory. It was during this time where—this reuniting—that we became best friends, and have remained that way ever since, 30 years later.

Oooh-kaay. Just looove the outfit, Bitmoji. But yes, a momentary step off the beaten path:

Terry didn’t invite me to his wedding. I completely understood, given the stages of our lives. On occasion though, I bring it up as an opportunity to ball-bust. On a few of those occasions? He felt a sense of guilt for not inviting, then I felt guilty for making him feel guilty. Follow that one, Dear Reader?

T and his wife Jeanie, the best female friend in my life, had a child I’ve been blessed to watch grow up; she calls me Uncle Mark. I love the way that sounds when she says it. After 15 years of desperately trying for another baby, then proceeding down the path of adoption, they had a miracle baby, Brooke. I’m her godfather, and I absolutely love and adore her. Before you ask, Bitmoji…

Nice costume, asshole. The point is that I’m incredibly close with this family, and I’m forever thankful. And because of this relationship, I became friends with Jack.

90-fucking years old, Jack. Always smiling, always happy, always grateful, and always a source of love. He radiated love towards his family. It was infectious. I admired him for that, and for his outlook on life.

Jack was a Korean War vet, an avid sports fan, a voracious storyteller, and an all-around hell-of-a guy. Ordinary, from an outsider’s perspective. But if you knew him, that was decidedly not the case. He was special. And he was loved. Dearly. Which brings me back to the funeral..

It was noticeably absent of tears and sorrow. Yes, there was a sad moment when the casket was carried down the church aisle. My tears weren’t for Jack (Sorry Jack, although I know you didn’t want tears anyway. In your final moments you gently and compassionately chided Jeanie a simple, “Don’t cry.” A succinct, beautiful final piece of wisdom.). For me, I was getting teary-eyed because I don’t like to see my goddaughter cry—it breaks my heart. But beyond that two-minute instance of grief, the day was filled with joy remembering an extraordinary man.

We went to the funeral to remember, and to offer support to our friends. No. Not our friends. Our family. But the support came in the form of hugs, laughter and smiles. Support in the way of consoling was simply not required.

That’s how I want my remembrance, 50 years down the road (I’m shooting for 100, Jack. 90 isn’t quite enough.😉). Throw away the tears and focus on the bliss and the impact I’ve had on the lives around me. At least that’s how I hope I’ll be remembered.🙂

But if I want to be remembered that way, I’ve got to live a certain way. I’ve got to live with:

  • Grace
  • Humility
  • A spirit of gratitude, especially for the loved ones around me
  • A tender, empathetic, loving heart
  • A light-heartedness, a sense of humor and
  • An everlasting smile on my face, just happy to be alive and thankful for my many blessings

I’ve got to be better, each day. I’m not beating myself up. I like who I am…usually.

I think that’s the point. Life is a journey. Wanting to be better and being happy with yourself as you are? They are not mutually exclusive. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, can’t we? The first lines of my daily mantra as I look in the mirror are, “Be better. And enjoy each moment.” Isn’t that kinda urging me to walk and chew gum? Improve, yes. But enjoy now. And I don’t think I can enjoy now—truly enjoy now—if I don’t love who I am now.

Be better and enjoy each moment. You are loved, Markie. And you’re a good person. So smile. We’re moving to Portugal and I’m publishing that FUCKING book.

—Mark’s daily mantra version 6.0, read each morning looking in the mirror, finished up with a high five to myself

I choose to do both: continuously improving, while loving me. One without the other and I’m incomplete. And my loved ones deserve the best version of me. To do that, I’ve got to live a bit more like Jack. A most-definitely, not-ordinary man.

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