Last weekend we went to the funeral of Abby’s uncle, Lee Erlandson. It was a whirlwind 32-hour trip:
- We intentionally picked a hotel with a good pool to give the kids something to do. Turns out Milo is suicidal around pools. He’d just walk right off the edge into the water, not even attempting to jump or push off at all. I thought he was going to crack the back of his head on the side of the pool, never mind the whole toddler drowning thing.
- We had to explain a funeral to Lexi, who was still trying to process Jesus dying and rising again from Easter. Not a good combo.
- Lexi had also been watching Beauty and the Beast in the car and wanted to know who killed Uncle Lee and whether or not he was a princess. Thankfully we had that conversation in the hotel and not at the funeral home.
- Lexi managed to sit through a 75-minute service with a minimum of interruptions and outbursts. Milo, on the other hand, spent most of the service outside with Abby. Yes, we were those weird people who brought kids to a funeral. We actually had no babysitting options and thought it would be a much shorter service. In retrospect, I think sitting through the service with a 4-year-old brought some levity to the whole thing (though I’m not sure if anyone else felt that way).
- And when did McDonald’s get so swanky? We stopped for a quick break and enjoyed a little Nickelodeon on the personal TVs in our cushy booth. I was tempted to bring in the laptop and check out the wifi with a little frappuccino. OK, not really. But it was an option.
- I know I’m not good at smalltalk, but I’m really bad at funeral smalltalk. I think “So how’s it going?” was the first question out of my mouth to just about everyone. Including a brother and son of the deceased.
What I found especially thought-provoking was the funeral itself. The service stretched on so long because they opened it up for anyone to share memories about Lee (open mic at a funeral?). I didn’t know Lee very well at all—I’ve only seen him a handful of times—so it was interesting to hear coworkers, friends and teammates share their memories and impressions.
You couldn’t avoid the honesty. Lee basically died from his alcoholism and nobody shied away from that topic. Instead of being the elephant in the room, it was plainly discussed. I know not everyone appreciated that, but I did. Longtime friends expressed regrets about discovering that Lee was an alcoholic but not knowing how to help. In some cases it seemed that they brushed off the warning signs, and in doing so put their own kids in danger. Several people commented that for Lee the hardest thing was the first step of AA, admitting that he was powerless. For a tall, imposing, intelligent man, that was a difficult thing.
That self-destructive streak, in the form of alcohol, left a brutal mark across Lee’s life. It ultimately consumed him, but he was also more than that. He had an incredible head for facts and an impulsive nature that took him around the world. He had fellow strugglers who would gather together at the holidays to watch out for one another. Alcoholism has certainly left a mark on his two sons, but he also left an entirely different mark on his two sons. They had every right to be angry for having to bury their alcoholic father. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they still are. But both of them spoke with hope at the funeral.
I was a little apprehensive going into this funeral. It wasn’t the typical grandparent funeral I’ve attended where the sadness is quickly replaced with the knowledge that ‘it was their time’ and mourning is more easily embraced with a celebration of life. This was a little more complicated. A life was still remembered and celebrated, but the disease that took that life was also called out. It was his time, but only because the alcohol had won.
For all our successes and failures, one way or the other we all end up the same.