Funerals and Friendship

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Photo by aftab, via Flickr

I spent Saturday at the funeral of a friend.

It is sometimes a strange thing to be a pastoral musician. I have this gift, and I know—because I’ve been told so repeatedly—how much it means to families to offer it to them in the pivotal moments of their lives. It’s an honor and a privilege to sing or play for a funeral, and when it’s the funeral of a friend or loved one, all the more.

And yet frequently the only way I can do it it is by emotionally dissociating. I’m a cryer, see. I cry over movies, books, occasionally even a particularly affecting advertisement. (Though, to keep it real, it has to be a pretty darned good one, and I have to be in the right place in my cycle.) In any case, funerals, especially in the case of an untimely death, are inherently emotional. And you can’t sing when you’re crying.

This woman is the third of my peers to pass away in the last few years. When I got the news, my first reaction was to reach out to my college roommate, through whom I met her. The stupid thing is that my roommate and I live an hour and a half away from each other and routinely pass through each other’s towns, and we haven’t seen each other in, I don’t know. Years. I thought of her often but always forgot to email when I got back to the computer. There were books and songs and blog posts to write, kids to chauffeur and phone calls to return.

We started playing catchup by email and soon progressed to plotting a camping trip. As the signals shot back and forth, I shook my head, smiling as I thought that our mutual friend must be up in Heaven smiling at the way her passing had managed to reconnect two people who have loved each other since we first started practicing across the alcove from each other.

The pianist and I had already started playing when my friend and her family arrived at the church on Saturday, so I could only wave hello. At the Sign of Peace I went over to hug her and it was a shock to my system, how familiar was the feel of love and belonging that sprang from that embrace. It was like no time had passed at all, even though since we saw each other last we’ve both sprouted gray hairs and miniature wrinkles around the eyes.

Everything about that funeral was beautiful. The sanctuary, the acoustics, the music, the people, the family, the love. But most beautiful of all, for me, was spending a few hours with someone who used to be my best friend, and, I discovered, still is. I’ve always said I only have one close friend at a time. I can name them in consecutive order, starting with elementary school.

It is a beautiful thing to realize I’m wrong.

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