The office is alive today with the hustle and bustle of folks finishing last minute projects to leave on time for a co-worker’s funeral this afternoon. He died of a heart attack this past weekend. I was off on Monday and came in Tuesday to grave faces and an email that literally knocked the wind out of me. Dead. At 56. Didn’t I just see him Friday? And Saturday he was dead. He was the life of this office almost. Always smiling, always joking, always in a good mood. He would say he was in a bad mood…while smiling. He had the kind of infectious laugh that made you laugh just because. I didn’t know him well by far, but again, everyone knew of him based on personality alone.

I haven’t been to a funeral that wasn’t for a family member or a friend’s close family member in nearly a year. Prior to that, it had to have been a few years. This is not to say that people I know or know of have not passed. There have been a few instances where I wanted to attend a funeral or memorial service and couldn’t. At least one I genuinely regret. Truthfully, though, the concept of a funeral unnerves me. And, over the years, I’ve come to know myself quite well: I have issues with death.

First, funerals. Although formats vary, this is what I’m used to: first, there’s a viewing. To see the deceased. Look at. The dead person. Um, no thanks. (I suppose this would be easier for me if I knew it was a closed casket or just a photo of the person). Next, there’s a funeral where there may be sadness and tears or, worse, screams of agony if the death was sudden (or, I suppose, just as likely if it were expected). Again, I’ll pass. I had to sit and really think about why this is. Have I always been this way or is this new?

Oh, it’s not new. I have never liked to be in the room when the coffin was closed onto the person, let alone at the cemetery when the person is lowered into the ground. I recall this when my great-grandfather and great uncle died. Again with two of my aunts. But the defining funeral was for a boyfriend when I was just out of high school. I stared at him in that casket willing myself to understand how he could have been with me one day and gone days later. My inability to comprehend the finality of death is what causes me to be unable to attend wakes or funerals or memorial services. It is not that I do not want to. And I hope no one who has lost a loved one and noticed I did not attend the service begrudges me, thinking I did not care enough to pay my respects.

I will not attend his funeral today or interment tomorrow. I will make a donation to the family and sign the office bereavement card. But I simply can’t go to the funeral.

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