If I sound cheerful, it’s because I just came from from a funeral. Honestly, it wasn’t someone I actually knew who had passed away. It was the mother of someone who had done work on our house for us.
And this may be hard to explain, but I don’t really like social situations where I am supposed to be happy. There’s something about having the expectation that I should be cheerful and outgoing that makes me suddenly think,” I don’t fit in here; I don’t belong. I need to take my feelings and go somewhere else as quickly as possible.”
But at a funeral, I have found that if I suddenly burst into tears and quickly exit the room that no one is bothered one little bit, and, in fact, I tend to be happier at funerals because there’s no pressure to be happy. So there’s room to be happy.
I also love old people. I have been to many funerals of older people who I knew to some extent, but I hadn’t known them their whole life. I just maybe knew them for the last few months or years of their lives.
I remember hearing this quote from that sunscreen song for the class of 1999* (that happens to be the year I graduated). It said, “Understand that friends come and go, but for precious few, you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you ge,t the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”
I didn’t appreciate that as much until–well, I think I’m about to midlife; maybe I’m still approaching it–and I started to realize that so many people I would have no connection with if it weren’t for Facebook. I cherish the people I knew as a teenage–partly because then they can see how much I’ve improved–and also because it makes me feel special and unique to have myself spread out over many decades in the relationship that I have with someone.
I think there is also something very sacred about knowing someone toward the end of their life because that’s when you start to see the culmination of the things they feel about themselves. Some people have a lot of regret. Some people have a lot of anger. Some people have a lot of fear.
Sometimes I think they need people who didn’t know them when they were young; who didn’t see them make all the mistakes they did, or be in situations where they felt like they had disappointed those who loved them. I think that it’s good for those who keep living to realize how quickly this time goes and how much we remain ourselves in carrying those things with us that we chose to believe when we were much younger.
Then there are people who really seem to have hit their stride much later life. They don’t get to share it with as many people–partly because ageism is very real, and we tend to think that if you reach a certain age, your contributions aren’t as important: your thoughts and ideas are obsolete.
So I also like to give people an opportunity to share what they wish they had shared or understood years earlier because I think sometimes in the telling of what it is we wished we had been able to say years earlier, it repaints the past a little bit. Then you can look back with more peace and acceptance for where you were at when you didn’t have what you do have now.
I like thinking that it is of benefit for someone who’s getting toward the end of their life that they find that wholeness and feel like they have been able to succeed in something that they always knew they wanted to do but just felt too constrained by the situations they were in: the physical health and mental health struggles, and also just the things they had learned up to that point. You can’t know something you don’t know.
I’m hoping that when I grow old, my children will have known me well enough because they’ve seen the real me and because I haven’t been afraid to disappoint them that they won’t need to say anything like, “She never yelled or raised her voice at anyone.” Or this is my favorite: “She was an angel.” I don’t get to be an angel until I’ve died. If I want to earn the right to be an angel, there’s going to be a lot of going through hell first.
Anyway, there is also the line where people say, “She never said anything bad about anyone.” Well, if you say that at my funeral, you are saying something bad about me because it’s not true. What I have done is I have quickly apologized. I have taken you aside, and I’ve said, “[That thing that you probably don’t even notice that I did], I want to apologize to you for that.” And then you think, “Wait–you did that? I had no reason be mad at you before, but now I think I’m mad at you.”
No, that that’s just if it’s someone I know outside my family.
If it’s someone in my family, they know I did what I say I’m apologizing for because they were wondering, “What just happened?”
When I grow old, I hope I remember that I apologized. I hope that I don’t hold those things over myself–beat myself up with them–and think, “That’s how I am going to be remembered.” I hope that somehow by trying to have acceptance and peace with where I was at in my development with family members–my relationships–that by the time I am old, not only have I truly been myself all along the way but myself is someone that I can live with. And that I can die with.
* The song is called “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen).” I highly recommend a listen.