When a friend passes from this life to the next, there is a wave of emotion that overtakes us. Emotion that is different from our response to the passing of a family member. Depending on the closeness of the friend, or the circumstances surrounding the death we are affected in different ways. We react with resignation of a death caused by a grave or prolonged illness, and sometimes even relief that our friend no longer need suffer. We react with shock at the suddenness of an unexpected death, particularly when there is no indication there would be anything to cause such happenstance to occur.
So it is with the recent loss of a sweet friend several years my junior, healthier than I, in the prime of her life, and at a peak when she expressed to a friend that everything in her life was wonderful. She was married to her beloved, all of her children and grandchildren are well and happy, she just started a new career, and had recently started singing with a group she had aspired to join for quite some time. She ate well, exercised regularly, had a healthy social life and knew herself emotionally and spiritually.
Cheri Patch was the embodiment of everything conventional wisdom tells us is necessary for a long, fruitful and satisfying life. But Cheri went to bed a week ago and didn’t wake up the next morning. I know none of the details except that she was in her daughter’s home and had spent the evening playing her guitar and singing to a new grandchild, who was just a few days old.
So today, several hundred members of her church community, her musical community, her volunteer community, her book club, her choral group, her very large family and our Gig Harbor community at large, gathered in Cheri’s house of worship and said goodbye. It was a tearful funeral but it was also a beautiful, moving, and in many ways joyful tribute to Cheri and her amazing life. These thoughts bring me to the subject of funerals.
It’s easy to skip a funeral. We can justify not attending by saying there will be so many others there I won’t be missed. Some think funerals are barbaric, unnecessary, or ghoulish. There have been times when I have avoided going to a funeral using many of the same excuses, but today I went. I went to Cheri’s funeral because she is part of my circle of friends. Although not close friends, we were affectionately friendly acquaintances. We had shared the same volunteer position in an organization we both love. We have many mutual friends, were in the same book club for awhile, and most recently were walking buddies in a new little walking group we were sharing. I went to Cheri’s funeral because even though I don’t know any of her children, I know of them. I know her husband Dan- who is an artist photographer, and I see him and visit with him at art shows.
The shock of the news of Cheri’s death washed over me as would a violent sneaker wave on the beach. My first thought being “No, it must be a mistake.” But as the reality began to take hold, my heart began to break for her wonderful family-her daughters, her sons, and her grandchildren. And then I thought of Dan. Cheri was the light of his life. They were one of those couples, gloriously in love, each pursuing that which filled them, each fully supportive of the other. I wondered, then “How will Dan move forward?” This is why I went to Cheri’s funeral. I went to share the grief of her passing with our mutual friends. I went to bear witness to the wonderful life she shared with us all while she was here with us. I went to hug Dan and tell him he has friends- Cheri’s friends who all care deeply for him.
But I learned a great deal today, too. I learned a few things about a faith that is not my own. I learned that funerals are just as important as baby showers and christenings and birthday parties and weddings and bar mitzvahs and all the other wonderful sacraments and rituals we practice. I learned that what makes us human is celebration. Celebrating the joys of life and also celebrating a life that has ended, even if that celebration is terribly tearful.
So as I continue to process our loss of Cheri, and we digest the lessons she taught us, my hope is that I will move forward as a better person, just for having known and loved her.