This is your quintessential Alabamian funeral. If you’ve never been to an Alabama funeral, it is an occasion filled with nuance. There are cultural folkways and conventions to be adhered to.
We will stand in single-file lines. We will wait to hug surviving family members and weep.
“Thanks for coming,” the family of the decedent will say.
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” we will all reply, almost verbatim. Because this is what you do.
Then we will all go eat until we develop type II diabetes.
I walk across the parking lot with my wife. I’m wearing a blazer. My wife wears pearls. There is a light breeze that tastes faintly of salt because this is Mobile.
And everyone is waiting around. Talking, but not laughing. Mingling, but not smiling. Telling story after story.
Then I see the widow.
Her name is Michelle. Black dress. Hanky in hand. Surprisingly, she’s still standing upright. I don’t know how. She is engaged in the hugging of a million necks.
Michelle is my friend. She’s a writer and journalist. She represents a time when printed newspapers actually existed. When newsrooms still had the occasional IBM Selectric typewriter hanging around.
A time before modern news journalists were caught in a firestorm of hatred borne from a vicious climate, ultimately finding themselves forced to degrade their craft by writing, for example, listicles. (“22 Celebrities Who Look Nothing Alike!”)
She worked for the Mobile Press-Register during its heyday. She was old school all the way. She predates Buzzfeed and TikTok. She did interviews with a legal pad. She wrote rough drafts in pencil. She had an expense account. Long live the golden age of journalism.
But she is too young to be a widow.
And yet here she stands. I can see her hugging people. I can hear their condolences. I can see people weeping. And I feel sick to my stomach seeing my friend this way.
Years ago, when I first started writing, Michelle did a story on me. That’s how I met her.
I was a nothing guy from a little town two hours east of Mobile. I was writing articles and posting them on Facebook. The blogs ran in my local paper which had a circulation of approximately 2.3 readers.
Somehow, Michelle heard about me from a friend and—this only shows you how poor her judgment was—she thought I was worth a story.
She contacted me. She asked if I would do an interview.
Me? I was stunned. I had never done an interview before. I didn’t even know what to wear. I immediately rushed off to Walmart and bought deodorant.
I met her at a coffee shop. We hit it off. The interview went great. The next week, the story ran in the Mobile Press-Register. It was the biggest day of my entire life.
I will never be able to re-feel the broadness of emotion I felt that day. My phone was ringing off the hook. Friends were stopping by, unannounced to slap my shoulder. My aunt purchased 110 newspapers. My mother passed out copies to the entire trailer park.
That one article changed the trajectory of my life. Michelle’s words altered my perception of myself. We’ve been friends ever since.
It’s funny, the effect people can have on you. A human being walks around this earth with a friend-shaped hole in their heart. They don’t know the hole is there. They aren’t aware how lonely they are. But they are lonely. In fact, that’s the hardest part about being a person. Loneliness.
But then one day someone moves into your life like a warm gust of coastal air. Before you know it, that uniquely shaped hole is filled. You never knew you had so much love to give, but there you are.
Soon, you’re a different person. And that’s what friendship does. Friendship fills you and empties you at the same time.
I wait in line until it’s my turn to hug Michelle. We embrace. I am wearing deodorant.
And I wish we lived in a world where there were no funerals.
“Thank you for coming,” she says.
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
stephenpe - April 23, 2023 11:21 am
We all need a Michelle and we all need to be more like her. Thank God for her cause now we have you……..