Last week Team WestEnders mourned the loss of a friend--in fact, Husband's oldest friend, since they'd known each other since they were toddlers, and grew up together. For him, it was one of those situations where, the two families are so close that you think of the other set of parents as your own "extra Mom and Dad"; the kids are your siblings (especially since Husband is an only child, making these his surrogate brother and sister); you call each other's relatives by their title rather than last name (Aunt So-and-So instead of Mrs. XYZ); and you even spend holidays and vacations together, as one big festive, somewhat chaotic, extended clan.
Over the years and across the miles, Husband and BF (Boyhood Friend) maintained ties...from the mundane (keeping one another apprised of the ups and downs of Family News) to the more significant (serving as groomsmen in each other's weddings, Husband asking BF to act as Riley's godfather). Along the way, the rest of us--first me and then the kids--got to know and enjoy spending time with Husband's Bonus Relatives as well. So when we heard of BF's passing, not only were we shocked and saddened by the unexpected event, we also were thrown into turmoil about how to handle it.
Obviously, Husband would be traveling up to BF's hometown in Maryland, to attend any and all memorial gatherings and help support the grieving family as best he could. But we wondered what to do about the boys--take them out of school for the trip, or tell them about it, but have them stay home with me? After we discussed it amongst the adults, in the end we decided to present it to them, and then let them make their own choice. And when we did so, they absolutely, adamantly wanted to be included in everything.
Honestly, this really shouldn't have surprised me at all. It's not like they've never experienced a funeral before; they've lost people close to them and been part of the remembrance ceremonies. But it kind of amazes me a little bit, how they have no fear or worry about...any of it. I don't know, maybe it's because they're males, and handle emotions differently, or perhaps it's due to the fact that we've never tried to shield them from the natural phenomenon of death and coping with its aftermath that helps them manage. I'd like to think also that the fact we attend church might offer some solace, as we're taught--and believe--that the souls of our loved ones continue on in eternal life when they leave us.
Whatever the case may be, it was determined that the Husband/Son contingent would head north on Thursday morning, while I would report to work early, put in my hours, then join them for the evening activities. It's worthwhile to note--in fact, it's essential background information, as you'll see--that BF came from a strongly Irish heritage. And the visiting times at the funeral home were scheduled...for St. Patrick's Day. Oh, and BF was a charismatic, much-loved, popular and social individual who had many friends and admirers, in addition to his rather large family. Therefore it was entirely to be expected that there was a mingling of tears...and storytelling...and reminiscing...and hugging...and yes, even laughter, among the many, many attendees.
There was even the chance to catch up with folks we hadn't seen in a while--mostly due to geographical distances, not lack of caring. Speaking of which, this was the part that was just a wee bit surreal for us grown-ups: those of us who'd known each other since waaaay back in our...mildly raucous...Single Days, now watched as our children got re-acquainted. For example, in what has to qualify as the most bizarre moment of the night, the eldest daughter of someone Husband has known since college DROVE her two brothers and my two sons to a nearby Target...so they could purchase a basketball to play with outside the funeral home. (Well...at least they're not playing drinking games yet, right? Wait, what? Never mind, that never happened. Memo to Self: hide all old photo albums before the kids get any older. Oh, yeah...and did I mention it was the parents who happened to be passing around a flask of Irish Mist, both in comfort and camaraderie, and in honor of BF.)
Having foregone the whiskey, I had my chance to raise a glass of ale a bit later, as some of us made our way to a local restaurant for a late snack. (Or, you know, "Second dinner", for my guys--seriously, could they ever NOT eat? Pffttt...) Then it was time for my crew to check in to the hotel for a bit of rest before the church service the next morning. Husband had been holding it together--with great effort--but the funeral itself was noticeably tough for him. It was an utterly heartwarming, beautiful tribute, with touching speeches delivered by his wife and another close college friend, stirring musical numbers, and a passionate message from the pastor. It was a wonderful celebration of a life well-lived, fully embraced, and ended much too soon.
As one of our friends--one of those we hadn't seen for a couple of years--commented, "We're too young for this." And the one who'd spoken at the service said firmly, "We really need to make a point...and an effort...to get together for some happy occasions." And I think this sums up the thought that settled into my consciousness over the course of the two days of commemorating a special person's time on Earth: life is short--and you never know when the end may come--so strive to reach each day's fullest potential...figure out what matters to you, and then try it, or do it, without making excuses for why you can't or shouldn't...and finally, spend as much time as possible with those you care about, because nothing is more important . BF was a teacher, both as a gift of his personality and by vocation, and I like to believe he'd be pleased if each of us who came to say goodbye to him took this away with them when they parted.
And next time we meet, hopefully soon, we'll raise a toast for a joyous reason--and consider it a lesson learned. Cheers, indeed.