My grandfather died a couple of months ago, so I had to attend my first funeral since I was only 2 or 3 years old. I don’t remember much from that first funeral other than knowing it was my Uncle Ed, going to the wake, peering over the edge of the casket, and looking at a dead person I had no recollection of ever meeting before. Then (maybe the next day?) my mom and I drove to the cemetery where I’m pretty sure she left me in the car (because this was back during a time when that was okay).
I’d done a great job of avoiding death for over 20 years, but I knew it was coming at some point. So when my grandfather finally passed away from a long list of things that are supposed to kill old people, I knew I was in for a long, weird, sad day. I completely underestimated it, mainly because everything I had ever thought about people dying was completely off base. For example…
5. We’re Bombarded with Death, But It Doesn’t Affect Us Until It’s Someone We Know
A majority of action movies, news broadcasts, and general life events are loaded with people getting killed in one way or another. People die in movies all the time. In action movies, the bloodier the better. We watch in awe as people get shot, stabbed, and blown to smithereens. Horror movies aren’t good unless we get to see people die in the most messed up ways imaginable.
When we turn on the news, we listen to stories of people getting murdered or a city in a third world country getting blown off the map. It doesn’t really affect us that much. But for some reason when someone close to us dies, it really messes us up (unless you work for a funeral home and are just numb to stuff like that, which is a borderline superpower). It doesn’t matter if you expected it and if they died in the most peaceful way possible, that death is way more traumatic than watching someone bleed out on TV.
4. We Spend More Time Mourning Than Celebrating
I was at that funeral for 5 hours. There was the initial hour of private time where immediate family could have a moment with the casket. Then an hour long visitation where relatives and guests came through and offered their condolences. Then there was the 45-minute service. Then there was another hour-plus of driving to the cemetery for the final burial, which didn’t even happen because he was being interred in a mausoleum. So we stood around for some indeterminate amount of time before we left. We didn’t even shove him into the wall.
On the other hand, a wedding ceremony lasts maybe 30 minutes before you go over to the optional reception where you hang out for a couple of hours and (if done right) get totally wasted. Regardless of whether or not you think the marriage will last, a wedding is a celebration. Nobody is sad. And yet for the most part, weddings don’t last nearly as long as funerals do.
3. Cemeteries Are Weird…But in a Completely Different Way
If you don’t really know of anyone who has died, cemeteries are just weird because you’re surrounded by dead people, most of whom at this point are probably just a skeleton underneath an expensive suit (which, for the record, makes absolutely no sense).
But when you know someone who’s now buried in that same cemetery, you start thinking about everyone else that’s been there, how old they were when they died, what their families were thinking and feeling, and how many of them still visit the gravesite. Because while a lot of family may visit a few times a year, eventually those people die. Chances are pretty high that my kids will never see the cemetery my grandparents get buried in, so once I’m gone, there won’t be many (if any) people that stop by to visit. Then again, talking to a tombstone or a plaque on a mausoleum wall is really only for your psychological benefit. It’s not like the person you’re visiting is laying in the coffin waiting for visitors.
2. You Really Start to Think About How You Want Your Funeral to Be
Of course most of us probably have passing thoughts of how we’d want our funeral to go, but when you’re actually there, you really start to think about it. I tend to try to avoid sadness as much as I possibly can. It’s the primary reason I don’t have a pet – because it’s going to die one day so why would I sign up for guaranteed sadness? But do I want to make other people sad when I die? Not at all.
Part of me wants to simply be cremated, and then have my executor or whoever is in charge of the funeral arrangements send out a memo informing anyone who wants to come pay their respects simply show up at the given date, time, and location, where my ashes will either be spread or dropped into a hole. Then, the executor will hand out Pizza Hut (or some other pizza restaurant) gift cards, where everyone will then go to have a pizza party. That’s better than seeing me dead in a casket and then watching me get lowered into the ground.
1. Life Is Irreparably Different
Perhaps the weirdest thing about death is that it’s possibly the only tragedy that permanently alters your life. Even if your parents got divorced, they’re still your parents. Even if you got the sugar and had your leg amputated, you can still eat and do stuff.
But when someone dies, things change. Even if you weren’t close to that person or didn’t see them often, you lived every day of your life with the security and the knowledge that they too were still alive and the chances of you seeing them again still existed. All of a sudden you have one less person in your life. Holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving are different. Everything is just different, and that’s weird.