I was thinking how giving a eulogy makes funerals a little better, because if anyone commits the sin of talking to me about the deceased I can always just begin with “like I said” and cite whatever I just read off of the paper and that mitigates all of that quite nicely. I tried bullet points the first time but it was uncomfortable, so I went full transcription from then on. Naturally I don’t want to broadcast that I like speaking at funerals, because that makes me sound a little bit sick, like morbid. I tell her — Riley, my cousin — I tell her you know I think I’m a bit young to have spoken at four funerals. Four! If it’s some enlightened beacon of hope I give off that makes it seem like I’ll have something good to say about death, about a dead person, then I don’t see it when I look in the mirror at least. Surely I have not experienced enough of life to say what mine means, Riley, much less another’s, because I haven’t been around long enough to say what their life means, either.
We have at least an hour until people start getting to the church.
I feel like it’s more of just I’m a placeholder for Youth up there at the pulpit and that my being up there is just saying look how I have life left in me and I promise to live and to do well with it and not die like this person has done which brought us here, and I don’t even need to say that that’s just total pageantry because I’m going to die whether I’m responsible or not. But we’re both out here smoking, Riley, and do you see the irony in that? Not that I feel guilty about smoking but it’s damn ironic, I tell her.
My cigarette lights through faster than Riley’s, though I’m barely smoking it.
Riley says for me to can it Darren, half-serious, that I’m making it about myself and that, really, I probably like speaking at funerals. Riley of course is thinking I like speaking at funerals for the celebrity that comes with it, as if that exists, but regardless I can tell you I did not expect our dialectic to reach the ultimate truth this early. I subvert her by saying don’t you think, Riley, that if I wanted it to really be about me that I’d die?
I don’t even chuckle here and I don’t think it would matter if I did. She keeps her face on straight.
I would tell you to go to hell, Riley forces out, but I don’t think there is anyone there. Certainly not Aunt Jessa. She flicks her cigarette away and it’s not even half-done. Actually, maybe that’s better, she reasons. Go to hell and be the only one there and own the place, have it to yourself like you’ve been wanting everything to be to yourself and you can come back only to speak at my funeral because I don’t want people giving me too much attention at it, and you might as well have it because you’re so hungry for your attention.
Even with the extra emphasis her tone still suggests only half of a seriousness which is really messing with me at this point. She picks her cigarette back up to find it’s still burning.
The last people to give a good reason to care about their funerals (and I explain here that I’m talking about caring about The Funerals, like the ceremony proper, and not death itself) were the ancient Egyptians, I tell her, because their ritual celebrations and burial affected how they fared in the afterlife, and if they even got there at all. If they were as right about death as they were about papyruses and pyramids etcetera then I’ve all but ensured, I tell her, that the four people whose funerals I spoke at had a difficult time getting to heaven and there’s about to be a—
I cut myself off before saying anything about Aunt Jessa, because I know as well as anyone that if just one human soul was getting to heaven it was Aunt Jessa, who owned a nonprofit and adopted three kids, among various other things required for literal sainthood. The silence keeps going, so I do one of those meta-existing things where you take a moment to really just look at the situation. I’m a little bit sad about it. Sadder, that is, than I usually am at funerals, especially when I’m not speaking. I tell Riley I feel like when I tried to believe what my dad and his sister Jessa said to believe about God it felt like bullet points. It felt like there was no real useful substance and I never was able to fill in for a guide in the gray areas or extrapolate how I should live from “love God and your neighbor” because things are a little bit more complicated than that in real life. Of course Riley would have no frame of reference to the point I was making because most of it happened inside my head. She just said that it’s the point of the bullet that pierces, but flowing blood that fills the holes. My first thought is that there is something other than tobacco in Riley’s cigarette. There is not, and nor, as it turns out, is Riley using the standard blood imagery to talk about Jesus, but this is how it clicks for me in this moment.
I feel like I should preach when I stand behind the pulpit, but I stick to my transcription, which basically says what we all know about how Aunt Jessa is seated at practically the left hand of God because of her nonprofit and things. It is a good eulogy because she was good, and I know this while I am giving it. Nearing the end I attempt to conclude by relating the epiphany I had just experienced outside with those present.
Aunt Jessa had been shot, I say, by Jesus, and it was not her blood, but His, that flowed from her wounds.
I look up before I realize how ridiculous that sounds to other people, and in other situations, and basically to anyone but me without explanation, just so that my face morphs in complete horror as I am looking on at the seats. To my surprise, many nod, as if they not only know exactly what I am saying but they confirm it. Riley is unreadable.
I realize that I had been met on my own terms and that they are by no means universal, and that I will have to face the consequences in the reception. My dad jokes later that it was better that, now, than in eternity, which I still don’t think is that funny but I’ll give my dad the benefit of the doubt because his sister is dead. I think that while it will never be cross-stitched onto a pillow, it stays with me as one of the most beautiful and artistic concepts I have encountered, and one of the most vital, for sure. And I’m ready to explain it.
That is why I’m getting this tattoo.