Saying Goodbye

I am not a funeral person.  I have this problem of being overly emotional, I truly wear my heart on my sleeve, and my skin is so thin you can see through it.  I cry at the drop of the hat and it makes me crazy.  Even in situations when I am angry, I can often be brought to tears.  It is a weakness that makes me crazy.

I have been to a total of four funerals in my life.  The first one was when I was 16.  It was for a teenage boy that I didn’t know, but a friend I was working with at the time wanted to stop in, so we did.  It was a huge funeral, the church was so full it was standing room only when we arrived.  We got there at the very end of the service, just when you are supposed to walk by the body and pay your last respects.  We walked up, I remember glancing at the young person in the casket, feeling completely removed from the situation, and then we left.  This funeral gave me a false sense of strength in dealing with future funerals.

The second funeral I attended was for my maternal grandmother.  I want to say I was 18 or 19 at the time.  I was dating Abe, so he accompanied me.  When we got there, to the tiny little room, my grandmother, who I hadn’t seen in far too long, was seemingly sleeping in the ornate box surrounded by flowers.  Reality suddenly hit me.  This was real.  This was family.  My grandmother was gone.  Went to pieces.  Like, ridiculous sobbing, my embarrassment making it all worse.  My parents were there, and my aunt and my little cousin who had to be 10 or 11 at the time.  My aunt and cousin actually lived with my grandmother and knew her so much better than I ever had, were so much closer to her, and yet they were able to compose themselves and behave like normal, sad but functioning adults.  Even my younger cousin.

My parents were not any comfort at all, I felt like my dad expected me to be tough and was disappointed in me, as usual.  I didn’t care.  I was embarrassed, but I was sad.  Only one of my uncles was able to attend, and with a shortage of pallbearers, Abe was pulled in, happy to help, of course, but I remember being even more sad that not enough people were there to pay their respects.  In all of my boo hooing, I realized that once you cry enough into a tissue, it becomes linty and crumby, leaving white residue all over the black clothing one traditionally wears to funerals.  This added to my embarrassment, but I assumed it was a one time thing because I was young, it was my first “real” funeral, and I would be so much more mature by the time I went to my next one.

The third funeral I went to came many, many years later.  Surely enough time for me to handle my emotions a bit better.  I was 28 years old and it was for my paternal grandmother.  This was the grandmother that used to come and get us for weekends at a time when we were younger, taking us to the movies, the zoo, visiting all of her many friends, etc.  We spent a lot of time with her, and years later, she spent a lot of time with my kids, Matthew and Isabella.

On the day of her funeral, we drove up to the funeral home, but I could not make myself walk inside.  I was crying in the car, I couldn’t bear to walk through the doors, see all of the crying faces, see my lifeless grandmother, be bowled over with the memories and the grief.  We waited outside and decided we would just go to the small ceremony at the cemetery.  We watched as they loaded her casket into the hearse, and then got in line behind the funeral procession, driving to her final resting spot.  Once there, with the warm sun shining on us, and the cool breeze drying the tears, I was able to look at her beautiful coffin, white and covered in gorgeously painted pink roses and say my goodbye and be at peace.

My fourth and most recent funeral was yesterday.  It was a rough one.  The mother of one of my closest childhood friends.  She was like a second mother to me, the “fun mom”.  Anywhere we went with her, we had fun without even spending a penny.  She had this amazing way of showing us the beauty in the small things, and her calm and loving nature was almost hypnotic.  I was fortunate to see and spend time with her off and on for the last 26 years that her daughter and I have been friends.  As much as I hate going to funerals, I knew I had to go to hers.  Not only for her, but for her daughter, who had been like a sister to me all these years.

When I found out she had passed, I cried.  A lot.  And then I cried some more.  I cried so much I had to take my foggy contacts out and just wear glasses.  I had hoped that I would cry enough to be over the initial shock and sadness, so I could attend the service like a “real adult”.  I wanted to be strong and supportive for my friend, for her daughters, for her mom.

Arriving at the funeral home, the same one my grandmother had been at years before, I instantly tensed up.  Walking through the doors, surrounded by the deafening quiet, I was very uncomfortable.  I saw familiar faces and I knew I should offer my condolences, but I couldn’t.  Abe pulled me over to a couch and forced me to sit down, to breathe.  I was focused on the large grandfather clock just a few feet from me, slowly ticking away, and almost amused at the real life metaphor of life’s temporary existence on Earth.

Finally it came time to find a seat, and so I chose one in the very back, both to avoid seeing the coffin as much as possible, and to have a quick escape if I began sobbing.  I was terrified of falling to pieces and upsetting the family, who had enough to worry about.  We sat in silence until I heard the familiar throat clearing of my dear friend in the hallway.  I felt a tiny sense of relief, but also more fear and pressure to hold myself together.  When she walked in, we made eye contact and I jumped up to hug her.  We chatted and I told her how sorry I was, feeling pretty proud of how well I was doing.  Then her sister walked up and took my breath away with her resemblance to her passed mother.  Suddenly I couldn’t hear the words my friend was saying and instead I felt my eyes fill with tears as she showed me pictures of her mom.  That quickly I had failed.  I was so upset with myself.  Here I am, supposed to be offering support to my friend, and instead, I am crying in front of her, before the service even started.

Needless to say, we kept our seats in the very back of the room, far from the grieving friends and family, where I could cry into my annoyingly disenigrating tissue.  I really need to remember to bring a handkerchief to these things, the tissue crumbs are the worst.

The service was beautiful, and I was able to walk up to the coffin and say goodbye to my dearly beloved “fun mom” without breaking into the ugly cry.  We followed the procession to the cemetery, as a final farewell, and then the day was over.

Death sucks.  I mean, it just does.  Are we ever really ready to say goodbye to our loved ones?  As beautiful and wonderful as Heaven surely is, are we ever really ready to send our cherished friends and family to those gates?

I would like to formally request that none of my friends or family ever die, because I just don’t enjoy funerals or saying goodbye.  No more death, no more sad, just happy, please and thank you very much.

In loving memory….

August 17th has been burned into my memory for the last twelve years.  That is the day the world lost a truly amazing human being, Kevin Heisinger.

We worked together at Kmart, back in high school days,  along with a handful of other pretty awesome people that I am still lucky to call my friends.  He was by far one of the nicest, caring, wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  I still have a scrapbook with birthday cards he gave me, and ticket stubs to movies we went out to see together as the “K Crew”.

On August 17, 2000, Kevin was beaten to death in a men’s bathroom in a Kalamazoo bus station.  There were witnesses, grown adults who heard the screams for help and did nothing.  It took a twelve year old child to break the silence and call for help.

I remain as dumbfounded by his death today as I did 12 years ago.  I could rant and vent and tell you how I really feel about the monster that killed him or the horrible people that stood by and did nothing, but in honor of Kevin, I will simply share some articles about the incident and about the bill passed in his honor.

You can read more about his death HERE.

You can read about Kevin’s Law, a bill that took affect in Michigan in 2005 HERE.

Kevin Heisinger

February 13, 1976-August 17, 2000

Gone but never forgotten.