Today was the final day.
This morning it was time to wake up and go out and say good bye one last time.
On this day, in this morning, we gathered as a family and with our friends, so many who had come to be with us, to celebrate my brother’s funeral mass.
It shouldn’t ever be like this. No parent should outlive the child. And yet here we were. I met my parents in the parking lot of the church amid the cold piles of snow that had been plowed into large banks. I thought to myself “I wonder if it was like this when they welcomed him into the world…” considering it is so close to his birthday.
I greeted the funeral director at the hearse parked at the curb. This man has been so gracious and kind to us. It was black, the hearse. I saw my other living brothers and brothers-in-law. I felt a true kinship with them. Together we had grown up, started families of our own. And here we were preparing one final act for our brother. The very last thing I could ever do for him, I thought, was to carry his body into the church and to pray for him.
It should not be like this.
I truly hate cancer. It’s easy to hate cancer. It’s not a person so there’s no guilt later on like “I really should have been kinder to cancer that one time.” No. I hate cancer and I don’t feel bad about it. Cancer is an evil, hateful, bitch.
And here we were.
Standing next to my now-oldest living brother, a man who was so much closer to our dead brother than me, I helped unload the hearse, or “coach” as the funeral director called it. We carried him up those steps and carried him down the aisle. The music was so beautiful. It was hard to feel sad. The church looked magnificent. I think that’s because the funeral immediately prior, for an old mobster named Bootsie (not even kidding) provided an array of fragrant floral displays around the sanctuary. Thanks, Bootsie.
I watched as my sisters read from Scripture. My youngest sister stood up to pray the intercessions and she stopped, overcome with emotion. She made it through. Just the day before I had written those intercessions. I included the following, buried neatly in the midst of the others.
For all y’all mother f*&#ers, that you may go &@*$ your selves; we pray to the Lord.
Fortunately I removed the line before printing. Still I think it would have helped her with a laugh if she’d seen it in that moment and my brother would have appreciated that.
And like that, the mass was over.
We carried him out.
My brothers and I placed him lovingly in the coach. Funny. Men. Grown men. Big men did something “lovingly” and with tenderness. Of course we did. It could have been any one of us. I did not want to say goodbye to my brother like this. I wanted to know him. I wanted to sacrifice more for him, pray more for him. It is not what I wanted for him but here I was.
In the end, my older brother (the one I mentioned) and I were the last two lingering at the rear of the hearse. Together we placed our hands on our brother’s casket and looked at each other. We pulled away a step and put our arms around each other. And cried.
“It’s OK,” I told him.
And it is. OK.
He is not in pain.
He is in glory with Our Lord.
He prays for us now.
Pray for us.
Good bye, Richard. We love you and miss you.