Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood

Even when you have developed an aversion to funerals because of their ability to safe-crack the lock box on memories you have so diligently wrapped in chains and festooned with heart-shaped locks, there are some funerals you must attend.

Friday was such a service. The nearly 60-year-old son of a childhood friend of Buck’s died, the result of a catastrophic diabetic crisis. I didn’t mind so much going with him, but I hated that he felt like he had to go.  We stood at our front door, gathering up car keys, preparing to set the alarm. He seemed to hesitate, then turned to the foyer mirror, looking solemn and lost. I met his eyes in the reflection.

“I haven’t worn this suit since Darryl’s funeral.”

A bell tolled in my heart. The rawness of it, fresh like yesterday, that awful October in 2005. Then, it was Buck’s friend coming to the funeral of his 45-year-old son, my step-son.

Most of the funerals I have attended as an adult have been conducted by an Episcopalian rector well-experienced in dispensing the comfortable words to assembled family and friends, smoothly swirling light into the dark. Sometimes there was a cello, once a harp. I recall the grace note of light streaming through a stained glass window, even at the very moment when I was paralyzed by psychic pain.

This was not that. Funeral home services are tougher to pull off, and this facility made it plain that death is the court of last resort. Most of the attendees looked old, or just plain worn out. They looked like some family clan come out of the woods for the untimely death of their kinsman. Many of them bore a grim similarity well suited to the down-at-heel building. None had that stunned look of surprise and grief when a truly unexpected death happens.

I hadn’t seen paper fans mounted on a stick since the old days of tent revivals when I was a child. They had a bible verse on one side, and an ad for the funeral home on the other. The fans added to the surreal feeling that I was viewing this scene entirely in faded black and white.

It wasn’t clear whether the speaker was a preacher. He seemed to dwell overlong on the decedent’s apparently numerous shortcomings. He did manage to find four things praiseworthy, including that the dead man showed concern about his family and was kind, but I regret to say I can’t remember the other two.

It seems there is a rule in vaguely protestant funeral planning that music of some sort must be included. I would tell you about the style, selection and manner of delivery of this element, but can’t bring myself to be any more hurtful than I have already been. I bowed my head and closed my eyes, not in prayer, but in an effort to be somewhere else until it was, finally, over.

Outside, a young girl in her early teens with astonishing gray eyes shook my hand and thanked us for coming. It was her grandfather who had died. “I cried a little,” she said, “but it’s okay. It’s part of the grieving process.”



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