You always hear glowing and bold qualities attributed to the person in the coffin or in the small walnut box. Grandiose qualities that make you wonder why peace has not been achieved in the world or a stronger economy achieved or promising talks between Israel and Palestine. “What a guy,” we say to ourselves as qualities are freely thrown about until the service is ended and the food is served. I say to myself, “I thought he was accountant?”
As someone who’s officiated more funerals than weddings, I wish I heard more of what I experienced in the life of someone I cared about.
People I know have good qualities but the enduring memories for me is the “smells and bells” as Catholic say. It’s the cinnamon on buttered buns and placed in the oven before we arrived so that we’d smell them as we entered the kitchen. It’s the holy water crossed on our foreheads at night as though it counted as a blessing from a layperson. (However being 10 years old, I accepted it as a an acceptable Catholic practice from a parent to a child.)
Cigar smoke, Old Spice from my dad and Estee Lauder on my mom (if I even get to smell them these days), a head laid on a sun dried, ironed pillow case that assured me that my D in arithmetic meant other options would be available to me twenty years down the road. My mother had a habit of rubbing her index and middle finger together and my dad had a smirk that told us kids that he had no idea what we were talking about but that he’d still listen.
Friends’ memories include Lou Rawls singing, “You’ll Never Find,” and surprisingly, Janis Joplin with “A Little Piece of My Heart” from a demure friend. Eating pizza by myself can conjure passed friends and the fun nights we had together. At my dad’s funeral a priest friend did the cemetery service and used one of my dad’s cigar as incense. It meant a lot to my family. (The smoke lifted upward too!)
The bold qualities are what we hear in the public time of a funeral but I think what lasts is the smells and bells. And they reappear to us when we least expect them which makes it the best in remembering them and then in remembering them again.