Today fit. It was gray and drizzly. The sun never came out from behind the clouds and even my habit of wearing sunglasses anytime I am outside was broken because it was just too dark. This is saying something. If I lived in the Pacific Northwest where clouds and rain are the norm or far north where there are a few days a year when it seems it is dark around the clock, this would be nothing unusual. But I live in sunny Florida. Sunny and warm even in winter Florida.
It fit the mood of the day because today my friends buried a gentle man. He was 92, the father of my best friend's husband. But we were all family. 15 years ago, my friend, her then-boyfriend and I were all roomates. We lived together for about 3 years and during that time forged a bond that was family. His parents visited often and considered me one of theirs. His mother is a strong, opinionated woman of the South and his father was always the quiet, faintly amused man standing behind her. Their positioning was deceptive though. He was always the strong one. He was a professor, had served in the Pacific Theater in WWII, was a Lutheran minister's son and a founding member of the one of the first Lutheran churches in town. He married his wife and stayed with her loyally for over 60 years. As the years drew close to the present, there were scares. He was diabetic and had heart trouble. Occasionally his lungs would fill up for no apparent reason. And still, he went for his walks around the neighborhood, ran errands with his wife, sang in the choir, and visited with his grandchildren who lived four houses away.
As I entered the church's foyer, I spotted his wife sitting over to the side next to a display of photos. She was dressed all in black, her hair freshly set, blue eyes taking in everything going on around her. She had always struck me as a large woman in spite of her small size, because her personality was so big and took up a lot of space. Somehow today she was both bigger and smaller than she was before. I went over and gave her a hug and told her I was so sorry to hear of her husband's passing. She looked up at me and in a voice as papery as her skin, whispered, "I was there for his last breath. He went very peacefully - just the way he lived."
"I know," I answered, then did something I've never done to another human being in my life. I have no idea what prompted me to do it, but I curled my hand, brushed it against her cheek, then gently chucked her under the chin. She smiled at me, eyes brimming with tears that didn't fall and I wondered, did her husband do that to her? Was he telling her that he was okay through me? I don't know.
I worked at finding something appropriate to wear, and was glad I made the effort. It's a sign of respect - especially to someone as old as they are, to dress appropriately. But looking around at the other attendees, realized that not everyone thought about it the same way I do. There were the older women denying the proximity to their own deaths in casual sweaters and sneakers. The men were stiff with suits for the most part, but there was a sprinkling of polo shirts and khaki's as well. A few old people, mostly middle-aged from church or former students, very few children.
Sitting in the back row, I suddenly realized that there would be more of these services. Many more. Most of us have lost at least one grandparent or all of them. Our parents are aging rapidly. And we are not immune either. For I am now entering the middle ages, when the bodies of my peers begin to express their histories with heart attacks, strokes, cancer and accidents. The ones who lived through the wildness of their teens and early twenties are now facing their genetics and their pasts or the stresses of the present. We will all get there eventually - it just takes some people longer. Like my friend's father. It took him 92 years to get to where he is today. A lot of people will miss him. And THAT is the best legacy you can leave behind.