We Had Lived by Josh deLacy

In case my brother dies before me, he and I already planned his funeral. It will go, more or less, something like this: Friends and family will file into the church. A few whispers, a few sad smiles and nods. I will sit in the front pew with the rest of our family, and our friends will sit behind us. Black suits and black dresses; tears and tissues. Sisters will hold hands, and husbands will hug their wives. Everyone will look to the front of the church, waiting for the last stragglers to find seats in the back so the service can begin.

The first song will play. Quiet, for the first few measures. A rumble, then a few low chords. And then that unmistakable synthesizer--the pump-up song of wrestling practices and high school weight lifting. Drums kick in and Europe starts singing, and at the chorus everyone knows they’re listening to The Final Countdown.
Grandmothers are whispering to their husbands, and my mother looks furious, and children are giggling and glancing at their parents. It goes on for five minutes.

I will stand up after the music fades, and I will walk to the front. Everyone is a little nervous, now. “I loved my brother," I will say. I adjust the microphone.
“We spent a lot of time together, and we did a lot of things together, and we talked about everything together. And if I could tell him one more thing" Here, I choke up a little. I pause, still smiling about the song, but wanting to cry, too, because smiling makes me miss him even more. I adjust the microphone again. “If I could say one more thing to him, it would be" ... I will take a breath and look out over the pews. Another long breath, counting off a measure in my head, and then

“I knew you were
trouble when you walked in!

I will sing the rest of the song in its entirety: I Knew You Were Trouble, by Taylor Swift. No recording or accompaniment. Just my singing voice, which -- the opposite of my brother’s -- should never be heard in public, let alone at a funeral.

At first, people will shake their heads and smile, but after I finish the chorus and start on the first verse, those smiles will turn into grimaces, and not-so-close friends will raise their eyebrows.

“Is he serious?¿
“ This is disgusting."

“Why isn’t anyone stopping him?"

"This is so disrespectful."

People will start to leave. A few in the back, slipping out quietly. Then a grandfather from the third row will stand up. People will pull their legs in to give him room as he shuffles to the aisle. He will glare once more as I sing Taylor Swift as loud as I can, and then he will stalk out as forcefully as an old man can stalk. More will follow, and by the time I’ve finished singing, it will be a less well-attended funeral than it had been five minutes ago, and those who stayed will be whispering not-so-subtly.

At my own funeral, I want readings from Marilynne Robinson and John Steinbeck. I hold their books close, and I read them often. If I can give final words, I want them to be theirs.

Someone will read for me -- a friend, or my cousin, or my brother, if I am the one who dies first. “Our dream of life will end as dreams do end, abruptly and completely, when the sun rises, when the light comes," he will read. “And we will think, All that fear and all that grief were about nothing. But that cannot be true. I can’t believe we will forget our sorrows altogether. That would mean forgetting that we had lived, humanly speaking. Sorrow seems to me to be a great part of the substance of human life."

And then someone else will walk to the rock that we are using for a pulpit, there on the side of a mountain. Hurricane Ridge, maybe, or somewhere near Mt. Rainier, where you can get to the place by car. That someone will read another passage, and another person will read a third.

My grandmother died in her living room thirteen days ago at 5:40 a.m. She died of cancer. Her memorial service happened this past Saturday, and the next night, sitting on my parents’ couch to draw out the time until he flew back to Montana, my brother and I decided what we wanted for our own funerals.

We did not plan much, comparatively. My grandmother had arranged almost all of her service, and she arranged it months before she died. She picked the ushers and the speakers, and she chose the hymns and the musicians. She even hired the organist and the soloist, and she made all the arrangements for paying them. We joked that she had even planned, down to the day, when she was going to die.

We waited in the choir room before the service. My parents and my brother, my aunt and uncle and cousin. My grandfather and my great aunt and my other grandmother, plus a few other relatives.

We had an hour to wait. My mother talked with my aunt, and my father talked with his mother. My cousin played a videogame, and my grandfather pretended to sleep.

There was a whiteboard on the far wall, and because I did not want to talk to anyone, I erased someone’s notes from last week's Sunday School and found a marker. I wrote out short, easy poems. "The Red Wheelbarrow" and "In a Station of the Metro." They were not relevant, but I had them memorized, and I liked them. I wrote in large letters:

so much depends upon
a red wheel barrow
glazed with rain water
beside white chickens.

My mother laughed. “White chickens? What does that mean?"

“It doesn’t have to," I said.

My brother was playing a piano, a stand-up piano that was not very good, but I think all of us appreciated his playing, even though he was not looking at us and we were not looking at him. He was playing basic things, things that he plays whenever he improvises.
I started writing a longer poem, this one in smaller letters so it would fit on the rest of the whiteboard. I had to rotate the marker as I went, because it was an old marker and did not write well. “o's" looked like “a's;" “e's" looked like “i's." I doubted anyone could read it.'

After a while, my brother started playing whole songs. Some originals, some covers. He sang one song by The Lumineers, soft enough so people could still talk. It was not about dying, but it was about love and sorrow and wanting, and it was beautiful, or at least I thought it was, and I think he did, too.

One grandson was singing, and another was writing, and another was playing a video game. Daughters were talking with each other, their voices mattering more than their words, and the rest of the group was mingling and waiting. None of us were okay, but we were making ourselves as okay as we could be. It was scattered and desperate, and it might have looked calloused, or distracted, or disrespectful, but we were making ourselves as okay as we could be.


All Rights Reserved--2007-2024