This is taken from an article that appeared in the Readers Digest and was written by Deirdre Sullivan.
I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that.
The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and
trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old
fifth-grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was
unequivocal. “Dee,” he said, “you’re going. Always go to the funeral. Do
it for the family.”
my dad waited outside while I went in. It was worse than I thought it
would be: I was the only kid there. When the condolence line deposited
me in front of Miss Emerson’s shell-shocked parents, I stammered out,
“Sorry about all this,” and stalked away. But, for that deeply weird
expression of sympathy delivered 20 years ago, Miss Emerson’s mother
still remembers my name and always says hello with tearing eyes.
That was the first time I went un-chaperoned, but my parents
had been taking us kids to funerals and calling hours as a matter of
course for years. By the time I was 16, I had been to five or six
funerals. I remember two things from the funeral circuit: bottomless
dishes of free mints and my father saying on the ride home, “You can’t
come in without going out, kids. Always go to the funeral.”
Sounds simple—when someone dies, get in your car and go to
calling hours or the funeral. That, I can do. But I think a personal
philosophy of going to funerals means more than that.
“Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right
thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself
of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to
and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that
represent only inconvenience to me but the world to the other guy. You
know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit
during happy hour. The shivah call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my
humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly
so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.
In going to funerals, I’ve come to believe that while I wait to make a
grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences
that let me share in life’s inevitable, occasional calamity.
One cold April night, my father died a quiet death from
cancer. His funeral was on a Wednesday, middle of the workweek. I had
been numb for days when, for some reason, during the funeral, I turned
and looked back at the folks in the church. The memory of it still takes
my breath away. The most human, powerful, and humbling thing I’ve ever
seen was a church at 3:00 on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people
who believe in going to the funeral.