“I’m going to say goodbye to my friend on Monday. I need to see him one last time.”
The burly man next to me showed almost no emotion as he said the words. As a consequence, I misunderstood what was happening on Monday.
“Oh, is he leaving then?”
The old guy snorted, his reaction a mixture of derision and frustration at my failure to grasp his meaning.
“No. He died. I’m going to his funeral. You always go to the funeral, right?”
I will admit I don’t always go to the funeral. I have heard the phrase used before, usually when younger folks are describing their upbringing. Dad always said, whatever you do, go to the funeral.
I was mulling this over in my head, when I realized that the big fellow was still talking. He was telling me about his friend and his circumstances over the last few years.
His friend had been in an accident which left him paralyzed and unable to communicate well. While his mind functioned just fine, his body could no longer respond to the signals from his brain. Talking with him was like talking with a child just learning to say words.
Believe me, I know how frustrating that is. I have been grateful for the Lovely Lady and my daughter on any number of occasions over the last few years, as the grandchildren jabbered on about everything and nothing. Interpreters are amazing assets in such a situation.
I was still nodding my head in agreement at how hard communication is, when I became aware that the man had moved on in his description of his relationship with his late friend. The words he was saying were hard for me to process, so I asked him to repeat what he had just said.
Almost angrily, he said it again, “I didn’t want to see him like that and couldn’t understand him anyway (I’m hard of hearing), so I stopped visiting him at all.”
I didn’t know what to say, so we stood in silence for a few seconds.
Defensively, knowing that I was a little shocked, he went on, “But, I am going to say goodbye to him on Monday. Like I told you…”
His voice trailed off and he looked away.
Our conversation was done and he knew it. He said one more thing before he walked away.
“You always go to the funeral.”
If he was worried about me scolding him, he needn’t have bothered. Before he hit the front door, my mind was already calling up the names and faces of several people, friends and family members, who I had failed at the end of their earthly travels. I have no right to correct anyone on the issue.
I see their faces before me, young and unchanged. Well, of course that’s the way I see them. I never went to spend time with them in their sickness.
I took care of me.
I went to the funeral.
I don’t have a whole lot more to say tonight. The words would only be directed at myself anyway. Maybe the reader can fill in the blanks for the rest of what needs to be said.
What your father taught you is still true.
Go to the funeral.
A visit or two before that might be a good idea, as well.
“True friends walk in when the rest of the world has walked out.”
(Walter Winchell ~ American newspaper commentator ~ 1897-1972)
“‘I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.”
(Matthew 25: 43b, 45 ~ NIV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.