I've always been of the mind that nothing adequate can be said when it comes to the loss of a loved one. For that reason, I never read the obits until I got a job editing them. Frick -- I never even attended services when I lost a friend or loved one.
That was accidental at first. Every time someone died, there had always been a reason for me not to attend the services. When I was little, my parents didn't take me. While I was living abroad, I couldn't afford to fly home. And aside from that, if I had nothing to say, why parade around my ineptitude?
But not long after returning home and starting at the newspaper full-time, I found myself editing my "grandmother's" obituary. Growing up, my good friend's grandmother and grandfather were my third set of grandparents. Mine all lived out of state, so this couple's presence in my life had helped fill the void.
I had no excuse to skip the wake. I was in town. I was old enough to take myself. And I sure as hell knew the service information -- I formatted it before it ran in the paper.Click here to read more
I arrived at the funeral home after work and, after giving my friend a hug, dutifully went to kneel before the open casket to say a prayer. This was a true-blue Catholic woman before me. But, like most Catholic 20-somethings I know, I hadn't been to church for months. Which made the futile search for something to say -- as a prayer, as anything -- all the worse.
I racked my brains for some of the stories she and her husband used to tell visitors. All I could think about were Irish and English jokes. But you can't exactly kneel before a casket, say something that starts along the lines of "An Irishman, an Englishman and an American walked into a bar" and finish up with "Amen."
Eventually, I found the courage to at least look at her.
And there she was, in a fantastic red-tartan skirt suit, with a white headband and pearls (necklace and matching earrings of course), as if she was simply taking a nap before Christmas Mass.
No words came.
And then I noticed something on the fold of a pocket on her sleek tartan blazer. It was a button -- a tiny, little button that said, "I was on Santa's naughty list."
Still kneeling before her coffin, hands clasped in prayer, I nearly snorted. "I was on Santa's naughty list." It's a phrase emblazoned in glitter on cheap T-shirts for tweens and polyester boxer shorts, and this dear woman was going to be buried with it.
I hastily made the sign of the cross, rose, and removed myself from before the coffin.
I sat down next to my friend in a pair of seats in front of the casket. We began making awkward conversation but kept getting distracted watching everyone pay their respects. Each person would walk up to the casket, kneel down, make the sign of the cross, look at the resting woman, spot the pin, and then snort, guffaw, or sputter. They would then hastily say a Hail Mary or something, smile, and rise.
No one knew what to say. Later that evening, I re-read this woman's obituary. It was beautifully written, it really was. But that stupid pin said it all.