Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Serving "family lunch."

Because my summer classes are small, and because relatively few people seem to have needed me for office hours (and the one person who made a big deal about "needing" me never showed up to them anyway), I decided to cancel office hours today (with notification) and go help out with the family lunch at funeral. (The oldest member of our congregation passed away this weekend).

I can't really say I enjoy doing this, because of the circumstances. I do enjoy helping at happier dinners or lunches: celebrating the new graduates, celebrating 25 or 50 year anniversaries, or just plain fellowship dinners. Doing family lunch though feels meaningful to me. I'm not always so good at the "finding the right thing to say" to a bereaved person. I'm better at doing - cooking or cleaning up or serving people food.

We were told to plan on 35, we probably fed closer to 50. (The lady had a big family, and also, we invited the funeral home employees to come for lunch). I mostly filled cups with ice and then with either water or tea. And I wrangled the heavy trays of dishes into and out of the industrial-grade dishwashers - they're heavy, they're down low to the floor, and I know some of the other women have arthritic wrists and probably should not be lifting.

I also find it meaningful to do something purposeful. And yeah, family lunch is a small thing, but it's a thing. And I remember my own grandmother's funeral, and how it was kind of a relief to just have to walk to the Fellowship Hall after the service, and someone fed us - no having to decide on a restaurant, no having to decide on what to order off the menu. So I figure some other family members may feel the same.

I also attended the funeral. I sat next to a woman I know from church who was a good friend of the woman who died. They had the funeral set up as open-casket. She kind of whispered, "Oh. I didn't know it was going to be open casket" and I made a sympathetic sound - I admit, even as I know for some people it's an important part of saying goodbye, it's not something helpful to me, and not always something real comfortable for me. And I don't think it was for her, either - at the end, when they started ushering people up to file past the casket and console the family, she murmured, "oh, shoot" with some dismay.

I think she would have been within her rights to duck out the back door. I suspect it was uncomfortable for her because she knew the woman most of her life, they were good friends, and....I can just imagine it was hard. She went up, though, and walked past it and said some things to the family.

I admit, I tend to prefer the memorial services where a casket isn't actually present. I know, perhaps that means I'm not as willing to face up to what happened or whatever, but somehow a picture of the person, when they were healthy and happy, and preferably when they were doing something they enjoyed, is how I prefer to remember them.

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