“Last respects” is a term used when you are getting ready to say goodbye to someone who has died and is off to the great beyond. Most of the time, they are said with bowed heads and clasped hands and depending on how well you knew the person, with moist eyes.

But then again, everybody has their own way of saying goodbye. Instead of the living saying goodbye to the dead, maybe sometimes the dead have their own way of saying goodbye to the living. You be the judge…

There’s an old saying that’s been kicked around for years about folks who are habitually late for any appointments, dates, meetings and so on that goes along the lines of that when that person dies, they will be late for their own funeral. As it turns out, I don’t know if that’s such a bad thing.

We buried a friend yesterday. She was only 30. She left us way too early but managed to keep us waiting for about 20 minutes. The mass was supposed to be at 10:00 AM. It didn’t start until around 10:20.

While we were waiting, there was haunting sounds of Amazing Grace played on the church organ. There was the strains of Danny Boy echoing inside the church. The choir sung other songs softly and delicately in the otherwise silent house of worship. The hymnals, which I guess are akin to some kind of Catholic jukebox selection, were being thumbed through during the entire time we were waiting. There was a lot of fidgeting and glancing towards the rear of the church as those gathered to pay their last respects began checking their watches and murmur amongst themselves about what might going on.

Finally, the priest gave the signal, the doors in the rear of the church were opened, the casket was rolled down the aisle followed by family members and the Mass was said. There were readings from various Gospels, more hymns to be sung with a couple of Irish blessings thrown in for good measure. There was an e-mail from a good kid who, due to circumstances beyond his control, couldn’t make it home to say goodbye in person. It brought down the house in the form of clenched handkerchiefs, the squeezing of hands and the wiping away of tears. To coin another old saying, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

When it was over and the casket was wheeled out, we all gathered outside and those that were making their way to the cemetery picked up those little flags that read “funeral procession” and waited while the body was loaded into the hearse and the cops in charge of the escort got things in order.

As for me, I didn’t go to the burial. My decision wasn’t out of any disrespect or because I had other things to do but more because I think that those final moments should belong to the immediate members of the family. Comfort doesn’t come in sheer numbers of people and because of the size of her family, I felt like I’d just be another anonymous face in the crowd. There was enough of them to start with anyway.

Instead, I gathered myself and made my way to the local watering hole. The place where we celebrate marriages, births, graduations, sporting events and yes, even at times, death. I took my assigned seat and tried to look at the newspaper or watch TV but my mind was elsewhere. I don’t know how long I sat there nursing beers, maybe an hour or two, who knows?

That’s when the folks who had chosen to go along to the gravesite began rolling back in. I asked how things went and amongst the hugs and the tales of the sweltering heat and the re-living of the funeral, there was another tale to tell and it was told with a smile.

It seems that somehow, the procession “got lost”. Yep, somehow they headed off in the direction of the “wrong cemetery” and it took awhile for anybody to notice. They had to re-trace their steps and right the ship before there was anymore embarrassment to add to the pot.

Amongst the suppressed smiles and stifled giggles there was also thoughts of Molly bouncing around in the back of the hearse. After all, she was the one was laying in the casket and we surmised that if there were any thoughts still rolling around in her head or if she was somehow looking down on the proceedings, we would’ve gotten an earful.

”Late for your own funeral? Headed to the wrong cemetery? Nice job guys! You guys could fuck up a wet dream if you had the chance! Have another a drink on me and tell stories about me so that I won’t seem as dead as I really am. Jesus Christ, I’m not even in the ground and I’m already being talked about as if I did something wrong. I mean, what the fuck? Wrong Way Molly, couldn’t find her way home. What are you guys gonna do without me, I swear.”

Yeah, we all had a good laugh on that one. Maybe that was something we all needed to ease the pain and to deflect our thoughts about our own personal mortality. Those would come soon enough to most of us, when the still of the night is broken by the randomness of thought.

Later on, I had to go pick up Anna. I spied one of her brothers and told him that I had to make my way and that I probably wouldn’t be back. I told him that I was going to spoil myself and spend time with my own family. A little tear formed in his eye and looked like it was getting ready to roll down his cheek. A smile, a nod of the head, and a handshake and I knew he knew what I meant.

All in all, poor Molly was 20 minutes late for her own funeral and about another 30 minutes late for her own burial. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot of time and maybe, just maybe, she just wasn’t ready to let us go either. Either way, we’ll take what we can get.

She left us way too early anyway.

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