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.