Friday, July 19, 2013

Friend of Ours

Three and a half years ago L. and I held hands, lined up behind a woman we love as she wed her high school sweetheart. Yesterday we held hands again outside a tiny country town crematorium as our friend farewelled her stepfather, who died suddenly last week. 

We stood, cold with the wind against our backs, part of the huge crowd that couldn't fit inside the small building. The deceased had been a prison guard, his fellow officers making up much of the crowd; the young guard next to me would wipe her tears away and then adjust her dress hat every few minutes as the service wore on. This man was loved, you could feel it, this man who had told me all about his kids proudly as he blew up balloons for my friends' engagement party. Everyone wept quietly, brought undone as the children said their piece. I'm not sure anyone could have kept it together as his youngest daughter struggled through her short eulogy. 

I sing at a lot of funerals, and you never get used to them. It's not unusual for me to be moved to tears with the odd story, especially if the person who's left is clearly adored and missed. So often, though, it's not for the deceased that we cry, it's for the people left behind who are hurting. It's for the people we love who one day will leave us. And it's the sobering realisation that, one day, a few people might gather and mourn us too. 

Coming from as Catholic a background as I do, I'm always unsure of funeral etiquette for others. Catholics all go funerals a lot, because it's not just a celebration, it's a requiem, a chance to pray for the deceased. So if you know them at all, you go. I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing going into yesterday, but the moment our friend C. walked out of the church and saw us, the look on her face told me we had absolutely done the right thing, making the 3 hour trip down from Sydney. When she was able to break free of her family, we held her close and told her we loved her, which is what we had gone there to do.

We ended up at a workers' club for drinks that were filled to the brim and slopped down the side as we tried to budge our way through the crowded wake. L. and took turns looking after our friend and after her mother, who was doing pretty well all things considered. The crowd dwindled, and eventually it was just us and the immediate family ranged around, sipping drinks and trying to make each other eat. We made inappropriate jokes, we made plans to catch up when C.'s in Sydney next week, we talked about L.'s daughter's birthday party. 

My friendship with C. worries me from time to time - do we have enough in common to stay friends? Are we really close if we can sometimes go quite a long time without speaking? The answer was on C.'s face when she saw us, and how pleased she was to have us there as she tried to take care of everyone while trying to come to terms with her own grief. The petty, paranoid stuff ebbed away, and I am grateful that my presence meant something to her and made a shitty day a little bit better. No friendship is perfect, we're not close like girls on television shows, but we do have an intimacy that no one else can share. 

We take care of each other. Sooner or later there'll be different combinations of friends holding hands at different funerals, but that won't change. We have each others' backs. 


  1. We take care of our own - One of the latest Springsteen's songs. It's nice that a small bunch of people has your back when needed, and the other way around when you're needed.

  2. Oh man, this made me tear up. Glad that you gave your friend that experience and moreover that you had a connection of your own.


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