I was almost late for the funeral. It was one of those times where hundreds of law enforcement officers shut down the streets as the police motorcyles lead the way, followed by sheriffs, highway patrol, and police cars from all the cities around escort one of their fallen. I was on my way to a memorial service where there would be only a handful of people. We all exit this world someday, and the rituals that accompany that departure vary in so many ways.
It all seemed so surreal, yet so unreal in another way. I couldn't believe my best friend had died at the age of forty-nine. She had just turned that age two weeks before. We had celebrated her birthday with dinner and a DVD, as was the usual Saturday ritual. She was the last of my life long friends. You have many aquaintances in your life, but usually only a handful of true friends that you keep for life. The rest of my friends of twenty years or more had died in the past three years. But of my handful of true friends, she was the closest. She was my soulmate. It wasn't a romantic kind of relationship, though we had tried that, failed, but became even closer friends.
I couldn't believe she was gone. I only half heard the words of the minister who spoke at the memorial service. It was apparent that he didn't know her, but he did his best. Anyone would have guessed that it would be me who passed first. I had been recently disabled by a neurological disease with no cure. She would look after me, and help with grocery shopping or whatever else I needed to survive. Now I survive and she is gone. She had developed a number of the same problems I faced, but wasn't as far advanced. She had diabetes, but managed it with pills. She had painful neuropathy from a car accident, after being hit by a drunk driver. We shared war stories of our aches and pains often, but it was her heart that took her in the end.
I reflected on this ritual of death, as the whole room seemed to reflect. The saying of our good-byes. The comforting of others affected by the loss. Her memorial service was attended by her mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, and me. Not quite like the hundreds of law enforcement officers across town. Did it make her death less important, or her life less meaningful? No, it was just different. I appreciated the fallen officer who in some ways made my life safer, but it was my soulmate lying in the casket at the front of the room who had made such a big difference in my life over the past two decades.
Somehow as I sat here in grief, I realized that humans have been perfoming rituals to mark the passing of friends and family for as long as they had existed. There have been burial grounds of Neanderthal man dating back to 60,000 BC. With no great understanding of the cosmos and no religion to speak of, Neanderthal man instinctively buried their dead with ritual and ceremony. Even the modern custom of flowers at a funeral has it origins in trying to gain favor with the spirit of the deceased. Although their is proven psychological worth to seeing the body after death in a state of rest, I could not bring myself to do so. I wanted to remember her as the kind and considerate soul that I knew, not as the shell she left behind.
Even now, I see an article or item in a shop window that I make a mental note to tell her. I guess in my own way I still do.