I’m used to writing about other people’s shortcomings or misdeeds. Today I write about my own.
A friend of mine recently lost her mother. In writing her obituary, she purposefully omitted the name of one of the several grand-children, specifically her own son. She justified this by pointing out her son’s long-time distancing from her and the family and his lack of interaction with his grand-mother. What it really was about was a long-standing beef between her and her son.
Had this woman spoken this in a private, one-on-one conversation, I would have told her what a mistake I thought that was but because there were others in on the conversation, I kept my comments to myself. Inside, I was indignant towards her and the first thought that came to my mind was how wrong she was and how urgently someone, (best of course being me,) ought to tell her so. Using her mothers’ death to punish her own son seemed so obviously the wrong thing to do, an easy judgment call.
Then I reflected about how I handled my own fathers’ funeral.
I too had a beef then, but it was with my step-mother. Helen and I occasionally butted-heads during the 20-some years she was married to my dad, mostly the routine stuff I imagine many “blended families” encounter as they sort through the pages of living life’s novel.
After dad died, Helen vetoed every suggestion my sisters and I had about how best to honor him. My father was a career cop and my sisters and I knew he would have liked the involvement of the police at the funeral.
Helen said absolutely not.
Dad was a lifetime member of our Presbyterian church and loved more than anything singing in the choir. Helen was a Catholic and in order for her to be remarried in the Catholic faith, dad converted to Catholicism in order to comply with all of the formalities that go with the rules of that denomination. While dad did enjoy elements of the Catholic service, his main reason for converting was not a rejection of his life-long relationship with our church and denomination, but his devotion to his new wife and her traditions.
He never stopped singing in our choir.
Helen insisted on a Catholic funeral. While my sisters and I went along, we also suggested to Helen that we have another celebration of dad’s life in the church in which he had been raised, the church where his mother was a founding member, the church where all of his children were baptized, where he sang and where he was married.
Again, the answer was no.
That did it for me. After giving this all of a days worth of thought, I announced to my sisters that I was not going to attend the funeral mass for my father. I would attend the viewing and receive all of our friends and family at the funeral home, but I was sitting out the funeral itself.
While I somehow managed to convince the girls that what I was doing was righteous, they were gracious enough to not confront me at the time and I did not attend my own dad’s funeral. To this day they have never brought the subject up and I’m amazed at their grace and tolerance in not doing so.
I made a colossal mistake, one I have been avoiding accepting until I heard the hollow words of admonishment in my own head that I contemplated showering down on my friend. My opinion about what she did is worthless in light of my own failings. I was judging her to a standard to which I myself had not met.
I completely neglected the needs of my own sisters during that time. I never thought how my absence, as the oldest and only boy was going to impact them. I failed to provide leadership within our family. I never considered the whispers that surly came from everyone there noting my absence. I let my sisters down in that moment and worse yet I let down my dad. If I had simply asked myself at that time, “What would dad have me do?” I surly would have attended that funeral mass. It is a mistake which I terribly regret and I want to apologize to everyone that it affected, especially my sisters, I’m so very sorry. I thought too much and felt too little, an issue I struggle with to this day.
The irony of my anger towards my friend and her situation only became clear when I was thinking about how I was going to react to her if the subject ever came up again. In this matter, I clearly have nothing to say other than I was dead wrong. And I regret it.