Another first in my life came today at my father-in-law’s funeral. Some people can count on one hand the number of funerals they’ve attended, but not me. I don’t know how many funerals I’ve attended. My parents took me to funerals when I was little and growing up it was a normal but sad affair. We all know the service routine: visit, sit, listen to a few sad heart-wrenching songs when our emotions are raw enough, listen to someone speak about the deceased, listen to the preacher, hear another song or two, view the body, console the family, exit, wait outside for the body to be brought to the hearse, then finish up at the cemetery. It is all so daunting and emotionally draining, but all of those things are part of the grieving process to say goodbye for ourselves because the deceased is no longer in his or her body. We go through the process to respect their life and start healing our own life.
In all the funerals I’ve seen, I’ve always wondered how family members of the deceased found the courage to stand up and speak. My husband’s cousin did it at his own mother’s funeral. When my brother died, another brother stood up, found his voice and spoke. He had strength that day that I did not have. I’ve always been too overcome with grief to utter a single word. Oh, one time I really tried, at my dad’s funeral. But failed when it came for me to stand because my legs wouldn’t work and my voice wouldn’t come. I wanted to with all my heart, but physically and emotionally I failed myself.
Today though, I overcame that. I composed something and distributed it to family and friends. It was a short piece, around 150 words. I made a homemade brochure and thought it would help others the way it helped me. When Mr. Curt Iles, a very special friend of our family who performed the service, asked me to read it aloud to the audience I made up my mind that I would really try, again. Although I knew the words, I went outside and read it aloud to myself one final time. As usual, I choked up. A few minutes before the service was to start, I was still unsure if I could follow through.
1:00 came, the first song started, and as I sat there and glanced down at the paper in my hand, silent tears flooded my eyes and a lump formed in my throat. I fought those things the best I could, wiped my eyes, and tried instead to concentrate on the words of the Merle Haggard song playing softly overhead to get my mind off of what I was about to do. The next thing I knew, the song ended, Mr. Iles introduced me, and I stood.
I wasn’t nervous to speak in front of people. That has never bothered me. Inside, I was battling a fear far greater than public speaking. My heart is so sentimental and tender, I knew I would cry and be unable to finish once I started. Then, there I would be standing like an idiot with people waiting for a sound, a word, a sentence that wasn’t coming. That was my fear! Yet, I stood at the podium and looked down at my piece. My legs jumped with nervous anxiety and my heart raced. Still, my mouth did not open. I stood there for a good thirty seconds staring at my paper in silence. It was probably really only ten seconds or so, but it was a noticeable pause; the whole time I was trying to subdue the enormous lump in my throat that seemed as stubborn as I am. I won!
Finally, softly I spoke the first word. Wanting to do it right for my husband, my mother, my father-in-law, and the rest of our family and friends, I knew I must read slowly, use proper inflections when necessary, and look up periodically at the audience staring at me. I did all those things. I did lose my voice a few times. I also paused at one especially touching place for what seemed like forever. I finished the piece with tears in my eyes, a cracking voice, and a courage that came with finally being able to speak at a funeral. It was one of the emotionally hardest things I’ve ever done, but I did it. I did it. I found my voice!