My Mother’s Funeral and the Kindness of Strangers

Few things are sadder than a long life commemorated by a sparsely attended funeral. The sadness is based more on illusion than reality, I know: the best way to ensure a good crowd at your funeral is to die young. Still, no son or daughter wants to deliver a eulogy to an empty chapel, even if the attendance figures at a love one’s funeral often say little about the richness of the life being remembered.

Most of the mourners at my mother’s funeral yesterday afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery barely knew her. Many had never met her; I doubt that she would have been able to name half of them if she had encountered them on the street. Yet they came, in the middle of a workday, to make sure that my mother’s family, including my sister and me, did not have to endure the sadness of the empty chapel. It was an amazing group. Among those whose connection to my mother was solely that they knew me, there were several whom I had not seen or spoken with in years, and others whose presence immediately made me feel guilty for being out of touch with them for too long. There were colleagues from jobs I had left long ago, and old friends who had, through the relentless roadblocks that family, work and assorted crises and priorities of living, had receded into names on a Facebook list. A former fiancee…a cast member of a show I had directed long ago. They were all expending time, their most precious resource, to be kind.

I’ve been going to a lot of funerals lately, something I once avoided with a passion. I’m going to start going to a lot more, and not merely just because, to paraphrase a line from the last Indiana Jones movie, I’ve reached the time when life stops giving you things and starts taking them away. As Yogi Berra reputedly said, “You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.” I appreciate the joke, but I’m pretty sure what Yogi was talking about was The Golden Rule.

5 thoughts on “My Mother’s Funeral and the Kindness of Strangers

  1. Hi sorry to hear that. I vividly remember your post on her falling and your running to the clinic and her refusal to trust the doctors etc. that gave me an indication how much you loved her. You have the knack of friendship created from far and near that you must have imbibed from your mother no doubt. We all miss her too.

  2. Jack,
    First off, my sincerest condolences to you and your family. My grandmother passed not too long back and I was similarly devastated.

    A more appropriate quote by Berra might have been: Go to other people’s funerals else they won’t come to your mother’s” since, at one’s own funeral, the deceased is unlikely to be concerned with how well it’s attended. It was this very reason (the dead won’t mind) that I, too, used to vehemently avoid attending funerals but, much like yourself, have been something of a convert the other way.

    The ways in which people choose to deal with grief and mourning often strike me as silly or wholly unnecessary; however, the older I get, the more I realize death is one of the few times it’s OK to be silly and irrational. Finally, at it’s most basic level, I go to funerals because I still CAN go. Much like climbing stairs, the day will soon come when I’m no longer be able (due to illness or my own death), thus I’ve come to consider it one of the purest affirmations of life as it reminds us that, while death sucks, there was a still great deal of good that came before.


  3. “We now enter a different time zone, even a different world of time. Suddenly comes the world of slow-time that accompanies grief and moral bewilderment trying to understand the extinction of those whose love and everlasting presence were never questioned” Norman Maclean, “Young Men and Fire”

    Sincerest sympathies on your loss,


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