Thursday, February 28, 2008

The funeral

It’s not as if funerals are supposed to be great occasions.  But I went to R’s funeral this morning (which, I swear, lasted all of fifteen minutes) and I stood out in the extreme cold with his family and the staff who knew him, and it was...gosh, how to describe it?  Well, it felt completely heartless.  The minister didn’t know him, and he sounded downright triumphant while he talked about R being with God and how we weren’t there to honor R but to honor God. 

Now, I consider myself to be a pretty spiritual person (it’s kind of hard to do this work and not have some kind of spiritual belief, I think), but after about ten seconds of listening to this man, I wanted to loudly yell, “Hey, man!  WHO ARE YOU?  You just sit there quietly, and let us tell you who R was!  You just stop your blather about your fairy tale version of God and how happy we are to send R to him, and you let those of us who spent time with R in his life, who loved him, who cared about him, who walked with him, who got kicked by him and hit by him and still loved him, who are mad as hell that he’s dead...let US do the talking, Mr. Minister!”

When the hearse pulled up, I almost burst into tears.  R was in a gray coffin.  One of my co-workers helped carry him out.  I went to stand nearby, and I noticed his plot overlooked a little stream and a lot of trees.  I know how much he liked being outside, so I was happy to know his body would be lying in a pretty place (even though the highway noise was nearby- but he liked watching the cars on the highway when we sat outside and played music too, so maybe that was okay).  

Even though his family was there we didn’t get to talk to them.  It was good to see so many of his staff people there.  I don’t know how they felt about the service.  I was glad we’ll be doing our own memorial service soon.  To me, our services have a lot more meaning.  We play music, we share our memories, and we gather together at the end, and we chat with each other over snacks.  Some of the guys he lived with will also be there.  Hopefully his family will come to that service too.  Maybe then I can tell his mother that I had such a soft spot in my heart for him. 

I can tell her about the time that he smacked me repeatedly and I cried and told him that he had hurt me.  I wanted him to get that his actions had a consequence.  I told him we’d try again, but that it was going to take some doing for me to trust him or feel safe with him.  The next time I was in his cottage (I had a session with someone else the next day), I walked through his group area, and he got up and followed me to the other area.  He took my wrist and he guided my hand to smack at his face (I resisted, because I didn’t want to hurt him), and he stopped and waited, watching my face expectantly.  My immediate thought was that he was trying to ask for my forgiveness.  He understood he hurt me, felt badly about it, offered me the opportunity to “get him back” and wanted to know “are we okay now, Roia?”

I was so touched.  I smiled and said, “Thanks, R.  Yes, we’re okay, and I’ll be there on Friday for your session.”  Sigh.  Tomorrow is Friday...the day of R’s sessions.  I still have to go over to his cottage, because I get someone else from his group as well.  What a big hole he has left.

When I walked through his group area yesterday afternoon I noticed they’d taken his old leather lounge chair out and put it one of the state issue wood and hard plastic ones instead.  Obviously, the staff couldn’t stand to see it empty either.  

Tonight when I got out of my car at my mailbox I noticed the night was very clear, and the stars and constellations were shining away.  I thought about him by himself in a gray box in a cemetery in New Jersey.  I hoped his soul had moved along so he wouldn’t feel scared lying there by himself. 

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