Yesterday, Chrystal asked me if I could take her to a funeral. On a previous day she had told me that the funeral marked on the calendar on the fridge was for “Grandma Atkins”. Her ride hadn’t called her back. I don’t really know any of Chrystal’s friends, but they strike me as being wildly unreliable, as she rarely seems to know when so-and-so is going to show up or when something is going to happen. Maybe it’s just my imagination.

I took her. The showing was in White Cottage. I must have been a serious sliver of bamboo under Chrystal’s fingernails on the way down. She had someone die and I’m singing along with the Waterboy soundtrack with the sun on my face. At the funeral home, I had my truck valet parked, which I hate having done, but I suppose that it’s for the best if your going to be in the funeral procession. The valet guy who came up to my window asked if we were family. I said “Yes,” Chrystal is the granddaughter of “grandma Atkins”, right? No. No. She’s not. Chrystal let the guy know that we were just really really close friends of the dearly departed. Me? I’m really starting to feel like a fake. There are lots of times that I can be totally lost in something and sort of make it up as I go, but not funerals. I’ve done this before, but this time made me feel sort of bad.

Inside, I knew a few of the people who were from Rolling Plains. I followed Chrystal around, shook some hands, gave some hugs. These were ancillary hugs and handshakes that just happened because I was tagging along behind Chrystal. Some people knew me, and I didn’t know them.

Stepping away from Chrystal, I stood over the casket and looked in. Trying very hard, I couldn’t recall a single time that I had seen this woman. To the left of the casket was a smaller room, which I believe was for the family. Overhearing Chrystal talk to a daughter of Grandma Atkins, “I have had a nine year old grandson who hasn’t stop crying since yesterday,” Looking to the left, I saw him. There was that nine year old in the back right hand corner of the room, by himself. For the rest of the time during the funeral proceedings, I’d see him, still crying.

How can a nine year old comprehend what is going on? How can a nine year old be prepared to deal with the death of his great grandmother? My heart went out to him. I was unable to help him. What could I do? Hug him? That kid had had hundreds of hugs in the last couple of days, no doubt. What would one from a stranger do? What could I say? “Everything will be all right?” I’ve got no business lying to a nine year old. “Everything” will not be all right, nothing will be the same. “Chin up, be a man?” Asking a nine year old to harden up and not mourn? I’ll think of that kid for a few more days.

As I sat, listening to the first song played during the part of the proceedings where people talk about the deceased, I found myself thinking that I go to many more funerals than weddings. Then I thought about how that’s not really bad. I enjoy both. I enjoy funerals even more. I enjoy listening to the love that’s shared for the dead, and the tragedy that the strong love was never shared that strong during that person’s life. The daughter of Atkins talked and talked and talked. She told the story of the family and we smiled and we laughed the soft laugh of people in a funeral home and we cried. She told of us of Atkins teaching her daughters to put their husbands first. The love of a dedicated wife is something that always brings tears to my eyes.

The pall bearers loaded the casket into the back of the hearse and I brought up the tail of the funeral procession. The cemetery was about a ten minute drive at funeral procession speed. I was tired, the sun warmed my face, I nodded off, I nearly rear ended the car in front of me on no less than three occasions.

Graveside services were short, as they always seem to be. I’d been in that graveyard before, also for another person I didn’t know. Chrystal was crying pretty hard at this point. Me? Chrystal’s stoic valet, standing one step behind and one to the right, close enough to know I was there. The services did have a well defined termination. Chrystal started wandering from group to group, many more hugs and tears. I took a few steps back and assumed a position by a headstone, out of the way. She came to the daughter that had been talking earlier, and that daughter asked Chrystal if she was going to the meal at Rolling Plains afterwards, they both turned to me, I nodded. A few hugs later, Chrystal came to me, ready to go.

I hugged her. I hope it helped.

She just wanted to go home, she didn’t want to go to Rolling Plains. I took her home, and let her be.