Now I remember what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to start funeral practice. Every week, a different funeral. I'd check out the obituaries and make my pick. I'd start with old people who seemed to have lived full lives and died of natural causes. Then I'd move on to bigger challenges. People plucked suddenly from the world, losses that made no earthly sense. I could stand in the back behind a safe mask of anonymity and work my grief muscles. I could get good at this.
Funeral practice. I made the vow to do this at the last funeral I went to, and I think the two before that. I could get good at this! I would never again have to stand in some church, as I am right now, listening to a congregation struggle through "Amazing Grace," while hanging my head and thinking about all the tears I refuse, absolutely refuse, to let fall.
I am not going to cry. I am not going to cry. I am not going to cry.
And so I plunge into heavy sobs, the kind that make you hiccup.
"You haven't been to a lot of funerals?" says Faith, standing next to me, kindly offering support. "No," I say. "Actually, yes." Um. What constitutes "a lot"? The main thing is, I don't want to be crying. It's ridiculous to cry. I have no right to cry. Relatively speaking, I am peripheral to Pat's death. I am not one of Pat's daughters, who still has her mother's voice on the answering machine to erase. I am not Pat's childhood friend, who long ago blew bubbles with her in some sunny back yard. I am not Pat's ex-husband, forever swirling in her lessons of forgiveness. I am not among Pat's inner circle, women connected through poetry.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.
Listen to that. The organist is squeezing every last drop of emotion out of those notes, and out of the tired old sponge that is my heart, now saturated and leaking all over the place.
This is so embarrassing. I am making a spectacle of myself. I need someone to save a wretch like me. I once was normal, but now am a blubbering idiot, was a grown-up but now I'm 3.
That does it. Next week: funeral practice. I'm going to quit the gym and just do death for a year.
Why am I crying? What is the matter with me? It doesn't help that I have to stand in the back because all the pews are full. There are so many mourners here for Pat. That is so touching. The touching is part of what makes me cry. People I haven't seen in decades coming together. He over there, he sat with me and Pat in a bar and they argued over atheism and Catholicism. And that one over there, she used to be married to that one over there, but they broke up because of that one over there. So many stories in this room, so much love and disappointment and now everyone here, together again, saying goodbye to one of our own.
Is this what makes me cry? Really? Buckets of tears? That's a lot of . . . volume. Oh, it doesn't matter. I am not good at death. That should be my slogan. I should get it on a T-shirt and wear it to funeral practice.
I met Pat years ago, in grad school. She was a "continuing student." She had already raised her kids. The rest of us were fresh out of college. She was our den mother. We had no idea what that professor with the sexy forearms was talking about. We took such comfort in the fact that she didn't either. Later, she taught me to drink good beer, to swear off the cheap stuff.
She got sick about 10 years ago. She got better and worse, and last I heard she was better. Then she died in her sleep.
I am, I suppose, just crying my goodbye. I am crying the same way I did when I was 10, at my grandmother's funeral, tears of pure fear. I am crying, stupidly, for a lost cat. I am crying for anyone who ever lost a child. I am crying with the sudden thought that my own sisters and brother will die, and that is only the beginning of a list I can't bear to make.
See, it's complicated. If someone were to walk up to me right now and say, "What is the matter with you?" I would not know where to begin.
Of course, no one ever has done this. And as I think about it, about all the funerals I have wailed my way through, it occurs to me that no one has ever pulled me aside and said, "Why are you crying?"
This is a funeral. This is the one time when no explanation is necessary.
Well, that cheers me up. And so does the fact that a woman a few rows up is crying her heart out. (That cheers me up?) There is nothing wrong and everything right with a good cry for the passing of an old friend.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.