Today we went to a funeral, and as funerals go, it was fairly normal: Christian songs (about hope), prayers, and lots of kleenex. The service wasn't too long, and it was punctuated by humorous and sweet tales of the life of the deceased. But what sets this one apart is the fact that it's another piece of my childhood dying, a piece I didn't even realize was so important to me until now that it's closed for good.
When my friend Treva called Sunday morning to let me know her father was gone, I wasn't surprised because we'd been emailing off and on all week about how much his health had declined since his cancer was diagnosed last fall. But somehow, though it registered, it didn't *register* until we met at the funeral home last night. In the south, viewings are a fact of life, even though I don't approach the open casket anymore because I just find the whole thing ghoulish. But when I saw her dad, even though in my heart I don't think it was still her father, it was just so... well, sad. Lying there, a cold body who had lost his fine, beautiful head of hair, it just hit home that this very sweet man, with the off-beat, dry sense of humor ("Hi, I'm Cliff, drop over and see me sometime") was gone forever. Having known him since I was in kindergarten, his life was intertwined with mine in ways I hadn't realized until just then. He was the involved father I wish mine had been, cooking and fixing things around the house and absolutely adoring his wife at all times. I recall him helping to paint our dorm room on the sly, and I remember him as he walked his daughters down the aisle. Though I hadn't been around him as much in recent years, whenever I did run him into him, he was always the nice, fun, loving man I'd always known and always assumed would be there. At age 67, he still should be.
So while I can rejoice that he's with his Lord and no longer in pain, it still leaves a hole in my heart to think he's gone. He had two wonderful grandchildren who will miss him dreadfully, and a devoted wife and two daughters who owe him much. But he also had those like me, who knew he was a true man with integrity, a man who could teach two goofy kindergartners a song about being in love with a garbage man, and still retain his own dignity; and I will be poorer for his loss. If this is what it means to be a grown-up, it's not what I was thinking it would be, but I can learn to deal with it. I'm grateful I had the chance to know this man.
Rest in peace, Mr. Hall. You've earned it.