Walking in, I glance around and then get in the line to sign the guest book. I spot several friends of mine up ahead. They wave at me; I wave back. We whisper that we’re glad to see the other and our arms automatically open up to share a hug. Some are red-eyed; others just sniffling. We all agree that it was so sudden, we still are having a hard time wrapping our collective brains around the idea that he’s gone.
As we shuffle through the line, I glance to my right and see more familiar faces. Little groups of two’s and three’s are quietly talking; some are looking at the display of photographs that the family put out. After signing the book, I find a place to leave my raincoat on the back of a chair. The gray and cloudy day outside seems to match my insides today.
Walking over to the photo display, I’m hit with the same reality that hit me when I first heard the news of his passing. There he is, smiling back at me. I see pictures of a boy, a young man, a husband, a father, a grandfather. As the photos progress, the hair color changes and the hairline recedes; the face grows round and wrinkles begin to form. Funny how our bodies can go through a lot of changes, but our eyes always stay the same.
I find a place to sit among my other friends in the Program. His active service in our Group and our District is clear as I see members and other “trusted servants” in the other Program co-mingling; it’s easy to tell there is genuine love here. Other people are there, too: former co-workers, friends and family.
As the music begins, we sit quietly, reflecting upon our friend and the times we each shared. During the service, the family shares their memories and then invites others to do the same. I begin sorting through memories, recalling a story I could share when the questions begin rolling around in my mind: Do his friends know he was “in the Program”? How much does his family know? What about his co-workers?
Personal anonymity can be a tricky thing to navigate around, especially at funerals. After the first news of a death gets out, people want to find the obituary–what’s the last name? Most often we only have the first initial of the last name. But many times, even the first name is not the person’s given first name. Every now and then, I’ll introduce myself at a meeting with both my first and last names just for this reason.
So, as I sat there thinking, I wondered how I could I put into words what it means to us to lose a member of our group. Someone who trusted us with their innermost thoughts and feelings. Who told us secrets they had been afraid to admit to themselves. Someone we got to laugh and cry with, pray for, be encouraged by and grow with during a brief time when our lives crossed; starting out as strangers and becoming friends on a common journey. Even today, when I come around the corner of our building, I’m just a little let down when I don’t see his car parked in his usual spot.
Many people stood up to share funny and poignant stories. The GR of our group stood up to share. Using guarded words, he spoke for all of us when he told the family how much he was loved. In the end, I decide not to stand up and share. This was to be my time to reflect. As we left, I realized what a privilege and an honor it was that among our group he was able to find some of the peace and serenity that had eluded him for so many years.
R.I.P., my friend.