The Funeral & the Empath

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on

My friend passed away over a month ago. She was cremated and on Saturday her family held her funeral. She was only 43 years old, but it was a graveside service, which I always felt was reserved more for the very old and people who died alone. I did not believe that my young friend would have so few people at her funeral that a graveside service was appropriate.

I was so very wrong. Despite her multiple friendship throughout the years and her many marriages, the funeral procession was about fifteen people total. It seems that in the final years of her life, my friend was basically alone.

At the funeral, held at the grave of her father as well as a litany of family members who went before her, they placed the urn. It was a deep purple and surrounded by various bunches of flowers. There was a female pastor there, and she read some carefully picked verses from the bible, which made me even sadder because my friend was not religious, but I am sure her mom sought comfort in the words. The pastor did not know my friend. She started her speech with those words. She acknowledged the struggles my friend had endured for so many years. She kindly glossed over the fact that my friend was no longer with us because of drugs and alcohol.

After the pastor was finished, my friend’s sister spoke. It was a sad remembrance. I know they had a strained relationship at the time of my friend’s death. I can only imagine that she did not want her sister and her various addictions around her very young children. The sister spoke of their father who passed away about 14 years ago. My memory of standing in this cemetery for that funeral came quickly to mind.

“Whenever I smell cherry tobacco, I know my dad is visiting me,” she said, “and two days before my sister died, I smelled him in my car. Even after I had gotten out my car at the post office and the supermarket, I stilled smelled him. Finally, I asked him what was he trying to tell me. Now, I realize he was trying to tell me that he was going to be there for my sister. He wanted me to know that she was going to be with him and she was going to be okay.” Even though I had been crying for much of her speech, my heart became so heavy. My feelings of sadness were for her and the fact that she had lost both her father and her sister, and the best comfort was that at least they were together. “And I hope,” she continued, “that when my sister is ready, she will visit me, too.”

After she was done speaking, the pastor asked if anyone else wanted to say a few words, and no one moved. It felt like an eternity, so I decided that I was going to say something. I don’t know what prompted me to do it. I certainly had no intention of speaking at my friend’s funeral, but I just didn’t want the two people who spoke at her funeral to be a pastor who didn’t know her, and her sister who loved her very much.

“So,” I began, “I would like to say something. I wasn’t expecting to speak, so I hope you all forgive me if the words are jumbled. I met my friend on a school bus as we were about to leave for field trip. She wanted to be my seat buddy, and everybody knows how critical a seat buddy on a class field trip is, but it was all good because that was the day we became fast friends…”

I don’t remember the entire thing now, and everyone around me said I did a good job, and her sister thanked me so many times for saying a few words. We walked over and placed flowers next to her urn and I spoke to her mother who was sitting in a wheelchair by the side. A few friends and I caught up on the other side and shared a few more memories, but it was all over in less than 45 minutes. My BF and I drove silently out of the cemetery.

“You did a great job, Kell” he said as he put his hand on my leg.

“You promise?” I asked, wiping the tears away.

“Yeah,” he answered. “It was really good.” I nodded and our car veered onto the highway that was going to take us back home.

Much love, All.