Recently I attended the funeral of my ex-step-father in-law. I’ll do the math for you: He was my ex-husband’s step-father and one of two grandfathers that my children knew. I realized long ago, learning how to do divorced was going to be an on-going exercise. I’m getting better at the obvious stuff like managing school-related activities and expenses, but the nebulous things – like graduation and birthday parties – sometimes trip me up. Do I or don’t I… Should I or shouldn’t I, particularly at something like a funeral where you don’t want to cause any distress or emotional turbulence.
There are times in your life when you show up and burn brightly in the moment, and representing at a funeral is one of those. So I booked flights, pulled the kids out of school, and off we went.
There’s a scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Miranda is struggling with a table seating because “…Nobody is talking to Donatella.” That’s the way I feel at these events. Technically I’m no longer family and therefore not entitled to the benefits of premium seating, but still, I’m linked to the family thorough my children, and I’ve known most of them since I was of single digit age. During an awkward moment when my Ex was herding “the family” into the room where we/they would await the cue to file into the reserved family pews, I was see-sawing with a “What Would Mom Do In This Situation” moment when his girlfriend made a discreet exit into the church. “Nicely executed” I thought, and I quietly followed her.
We sat next to each other as the church filled up, chatting in hushed tones, both privately thinking that anyone who saw us next to each other was likely dying a slow, miserable death. We were in the last row of family seating, far enough back to blend in with the crowd, but still close enough to be considered en famille.
For the next hour I found myself at an interesting intersection of my life. I was both included and excluded, my rank demoted to below the salt, yet still at the table, nonetheless. I laughed at anecdotes that were eulogized, feeling empathetic that my pew neighbor had missed out on stories and events that were the fabric of the family to which she is now an integral part. I felt sad that these stories would grow over time, experienced and appreciated by my children, who will have to recount them to me as a third party participant. I felt myself being pulled back into a place so familiar. I’m now a different person, living a life that’s structurally different, yet more comfortable, than that which was almost my entire existence for half my life. I was participating, but I felt more that I was observing, trying to fill in the blanks on fragments that had been overlooked. It was as if I was trying to cram for exams in life school, but I hadn’t attended the requisite classes.
Later at the reception, I felt something of the same awkwardness, but the long pours of white wine mitigated the discomfort. Flying home I thought about the funeral and what it symbolized. It was the acknowledgement and celebration of a life well-lived that has passed. I think in some way my attendance there was my own kind of funeral, acknowledging and celebrating my life that I lived, but that now has passed.