Thursday, October 01, 2009

Funerals suck. I think we can all agree on that. I had missed a number of important ones in the past few months but circumstances and borrowed money put me in the right place and time to be able to fly back to Rhode Island for Uncle Mike’s. I knew it was going to be an emotional one but I wasn’t quite expecting some of the emotions I went through.

As soon as we walked into the funeral home memories started flooding in. On the PA system they were playing our old Chorale recordings. All around the sitting rooms were photos from all stages of Uncle Mike’s life.

And then there were the people.

Old friends I had not seen in almost 30 years filled the room. We hugged, we caught up and we even laughed over old times. I think we also laughed at how old we had all gotten. As more and more came in it was a game to see if you were able to put the current face with the person you remembered from back in F-Wing. My ears perked up when I heard a familiar voice that hadn’t changed a bit, “Jimmy! Where’s Bevans!” I looked around following the same old, scratchy voice, “Why is Jimmy’s voice coming out of that old guy’s head?!”

Mrs. Brown, our accompanist, looked exactly as she did the last time I saw her in the late 80’s. I thought there must be a “Dorian Gray” portrait of her somewhere until a friend reminded me that she was probably using just as many cosmetics now as she did back then.

I was fine with all of these reunions and was glad that none of the grief bubbled to the surface as I had felt would come with this funeral until I glanced up and made eye contact with an old and special friend.

Jill and I had dated back in school and even after we broke up stayed friends and deepened that friendship. While we hadn’t talked in over 20 years we had reconnected on Facebook there was something about looking into her eyes. Across the room I felt as if we immediately felt and shared the grief of our loss of Uncle Mike. Also, in just that momentary glance, was all of the emotion that tied us together back when we walked the same halls, the sadness of a friendship lost over time and the joy of being together again.

All that took place in 3 seconds; the time it took me to look up, stand up and plow my way across the room and sweep my arms around her. And then we cried. As I hugged her tighter I could feel my sobs shaking against hers. “Damn you”, I said “I was fine till you got here!” We laughed, dried our tears and, after she went through the receiving line, caught up with each others lives.

The receiving line? Oh, yeah the real reason for being there.

Uncle Mike looked exactly as I remembered him. I held my tears pretty much in check, although with a huge lump in my throat holding them back. Just like with the other reunions happening in that room it was good to reconnect with the rest of the Kroian family. They all were very appreciative of my having come all the way from Florida.

There was this one moment that happened just as I was preparing to leave which shows how deep the influence Mike had on me. As I stood at the casket before I left, one of the old Chorale songs was playing. With the familiar tune playing and Uncle Mike there before me more and more memories came into focus. I could see his hands massaging the sound and his face either emoting or wincing. Suddenly, I starting singing along. I caught myself before others noticed but it was enough to make me smile at the memories.

The funeral the next day was a traditional Armenian service. The funeral procession was one of the few which came close to equaling the size of my father's as we wound our way from Warwick to Providence and back to the cemetery in West Greenwich. The weather held out with a bright sun and gentle autumn breeze as we filed past leaving flowers on the tomb cover as we left Uncle Mike at his final resting place.

Because there had been a years time to prepare for this, the family seemed able to deal easier with the loss. Added to that the reunion feel to seeing old friends at every turn took much of the sting out of this funeral and the Yugoslav reunion was a perfect coda to the whole things.

But that is tomorrow's blog.

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