Role Model

She asked me if I’d take her to the funeral. She said in a text: “Will u take me? I can’t get a ride.”

So I said, yes, I would drive her. This would be another one of the things that I probably wouldn’t put in my report to the people who supervised me in my role as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for a teenage girl in foster care. Somehow, ‘took to funeral’ didn’t seem like the kind of wholesome, relationship-building, happy activity that we should do. But the key thing between a CASA and a foster child is that there needs to be trust. You get trust by responding to reasonable requests, helping a kid through a hard thing, right? I don’t know.

I picked her up where she was staying. A foster child is always staying somewhere, not living there. The difference is represented by the ever-present black garbage bag. Another day, another address, same garbage bag.

A Facebook friend of hers had died by suicide. A teenage boy that she had only met in person a couple of times at the mall. Somehow, his death had made her feel closer to him. I could tell by how she was talking in the car. Every minute he grew from a casual acquaintance to a lifelong friend, mostly because, I think, she had maybe felt the same deep hopelessness and had thought about suicide herself.

We pulled up to the funeral home and I pulled into a parking space, pushed back my seat and took out my Blackberry.

“Aren’t you coming in with me?”

“No, I’ll wait for you, though. I can’t go in.”

“Why? I need you to go in with me.”

“I can’t, I’m not dressed for a funeral. I have jeans on.”

She looked at me, then at her own jeans. “I have jeans on. So what?”

Yes, we both had jeans on. The fifty years age difference between us played out in our jeans. Mine were dark blue, boot cut and hers were light blue with slash marks and magic marker drawings.

We went in the funeral home together. Right away, I knew she’s never been in one before. I explained what comes next. That we sign the guest book and then give our condolences to the family. I pointed to where she should go and told her what to say.

“Aren’t you coming with me?”

We walked to the open casket. Her young friend was dressed in a suit and tie. Days before, he had been in high school, FaceBooking, been at the mall. I wondered when she had seen him last. Is this a good thing or a bad thing that I brought her here? How does she feel about all the other kids who are here, about the big poster boards full of pictures of her young friend? Am I teaching her a skill or showing her the future?

We moved on to his parents, his mom and dad standing side by side, greeting people, seeming intent on making everyone else feel better. I went first so she would know what to do, “I’m so sorry about your son.” And then it was her turn. She explained how she met their son and why she liked him so much. His parents smiled at her and held her hands.

She learned how to go to a funeral that day; at least that’s what I think she learned. Maybe she learned to show up, to be present, to speak, to console, and to think about what it all means. Maybe that’s what I learned.

That’s my hope.

8 Comments on “Role Model

  1. Most kids have no idea how to follow the rituals of the dead these days, but there’s strength in those rosaries, those viewings. You gave that girl a gift that goes beyond the funeral.

  2. I’m so glad you went, when you really didn’t have to go. I’m glad she turned to you, because then, she was not alone. I think you impacted her life in more ways than you will ever know. Good on you!

  3. Great telling of a sombre but powerful moment. The last favour a friend can give, and there is so little preparation for it these days.

  4. Onya Jan. ‘She’ (I’m sorry I don’t know her Name) will always remember what you did for her that day…never mind the jeans.

  5. What a gift. Funerals are not in school curriculum. I have only learned what to do in the lAst few years. And it’s about just showing up and being there. Jeans and all…

    Sent from my iPhone

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