I attended my first wake and funeral when I was 10 years old. It was for a close family friend, a mother to three girls. Just two years later, one of her daughters would be killed in a hit and run accident at the age of 16. I went to both her wake and funeral too.
However, as I got older, it seemed that whenever someone died, I would attend either the wake or the funeral, but not both unless it was a family member or close friend. Although I was willing to switch my schedule around if I needed to in order to attend either the wake or funeral, it never occurred to me to block out two days to pay my respects. It was almost as if I felt that if I went to one, that would be enough to show my respects to the deceased and their family.
This past week, my father-in-law died, and it was interesting to see who showed up at his wake and funeral. Since he was 93 years old, most of the attendees were our friends and colleagues, most of whom either did not know him well or had never even met him before. What stood out were the people who came both days to attend the wake and the funeral. These were the friends we knew we could count on for anything, anytime, even though we hadn’t seen many of them in years, including my husband’s college roommate and best man, whom we hadn’t seen in 15 years.
However, what stood out more starkly were the people who didn’t come at all—next-door neighbors, people we’d known for years, and relatives who didn’t even bother to call. One neighbor just sent a card sending their condolences and saying “Please let us know if there’s anything we can do for you.” My reaction to that was that it would have been nice if they had come to either the wake or funeral, or at least called to say they weren’t coming. Ditto for members of my own family, I am embarrassed to say.
As my husband said during his reflections at the funeral service for his father, one thing he has told our boys is that they should never miss a single wedding or funeral, because although that day may not mean much to them, it means the world to the person getting married or the family of the person who just died.
Now that I have stood in those shoes, I am going to heed my husband’s advice and think deep and hard before I decide I don’t have time to show my respects to a family in mourning. As a friend once said to me, “Time is what you make it. If you want to make the time, you can.”