I was once the emcee of a funeral.
I had no qualifications for this role. I’m not a minister or a funeral director or even a practiced mourner. But when my longtime friend asked me to be the emcee of her mother’s funeral, I said okay. I don’t know why I said okay. I just thought it would be wrong to say no and force my friend to ask other people. It had probably been hard enough to ask me.
I’d known my friend’s mother for many years but not well. I knew my friend loved her mother in a profound and deep way and so did my friend’s grown children, each of whom had locket quality memories of their grandmother.
When my father died, I drew up a list of his ten best qualities, like how he made new friends going to the bank and how he got mad at a minimum of one elected official a day. I read this list to the assembled family and friends and they laughed and nodded their heads. Yeah, they seemed to say, that was Roy, alright.
I also read a poem about a lighthouse written by Edgar Guest who was a poet who read his work on the AM radio show my dad and I listened to on the way to work at our Ben Franklin store in Detroit. The poem didn’t exactly fit my dad but Edgar Guest did, so many folks were left scratching their heads at all the nautical references. That I read the list and the poem were itself miracles since at my mother’s funeral just a year earlier, I’d frozen at the prospect of speaking.
So now I was to be the emcee at my friend’s mother’s funeral. There were many people in attendance, a double room at the funeral home with rows extending for what seemed a football field. I opened up with a welcome and read a poem, of course, not the one about the lighthouse but another one about people who die never really leaving us. I wanted the poem to be appropriate and thoughtful, which it was in a stiff sense. I don’t remember the poem or the poet.
After the poem, my friend’s mother’s granddaughter spoke. Her words were heartfelt and made everyone cry. My friend decided she couldn’t speak and it was then I wished I’d found a better poem, one that was deeper and more intimate, less likely to find its way to a sympathy card but it was too late.
My friend’s mother was a veteran so she had military honors. This increased the gravitas of the moment. I sat down during the part, before that I was standing at a small lectern, and I watched the honor guard go through its ritual. It was hard to wrap up after this, hard to even out the solemnity with the need to move on, both in terms of the waiting luncheon and in life. But I did that and everyone rose and hugged each other and went to another room to eat sandwiches and potato salad.
That was my only experience being an emcee of a funeral.