Your best friend growing up- his mom dies. It isn’t sudden. She was on hospice and you visited her as such… It was Christmas Eve, and you had just completed your annual round of golf with her son. Right away she wanted to know who won and what the scores were. Then right away she gave her son—who had been tending to her and her late husband around the clock for 4 years— 5 good minutes of shit for betting against you. He could only smile.
But then she had trouble breathing and tried to pull her tubes out. Her saint of a daughter-in-law wrestled with her and got her to calm down and keep all the tubes in… Your friend and his wife took a break and left you alone with the soon to be dead woman. She asked you to grab her a Coke from the mini-fridge in the corner of the room- the room her son built for her and her husband (his father) to live in, with his bare hands, maybe a decade ago…
The Granny Flat is a far cry from the forts you and your friend built in his backyard growing up– vaulted ceiling, hardwood floor, no spray paint or posters of Cheryl Tiegs, etc. Since there was an empty red can next to the bed- and since her body had been running on that shit and Winston cigarettes for at least the 40 years you’d known her, you got your friend’s mom a Coke.
Then she asked you, “Has he been born yet?”
“The boy– has he been born yet?”
“Mary, what boy?”
She points to the TV and it’s some movie you have never seen, and the sound has been off since you got there.
“I don’t know Mary, I have never seen this movie.”
She looks at you with skepticism for the first time ever, “Well, I guess I trust you…”
She starts coughing and her son re-enters. You say goodbye and walk to your car with your eyes open wider than normal…
A few weeks later, your friend calls. He says his sister wants you to speak at the funeral. You hang up and immediately start writing stuff down. It’s a fucking flood- words and tears and snot everywhere. It feels good to let it out. You had no idea so much was in there (any of it).
You never knew how incredibly good this woman was to you when you were a kid– until you were asked to speak at her funeral.
The service starts with some dude playing acoustic guitar and singing onstage. A funeral musician- that’s even weirder than being a professional poker player, you decide. After maybe three songs of the utmost tranquility, the pastor welcomes everyone and starts leading prayers…
Your kids have the looks of, “Where the fuck am I, and what is all this shit?” Your 5-year-old boy is sitting there with one eyebrow up, a few envelopes with his name on them by his feet, but otherwise a perfect angel. Your daughter is on your lap, holding the notebook she brought with her in her left hand and gently rubbing your fuzzy head with her right. On the open page of her notebook is a beautiful drawing of the funeral musician’s guitar.
The pastor announces that a few people are going to speak. He calls your name first…
As is the case with all the best shit you have ever written, Mary’s Eulogy took no real time or effort to compose. It was like you were
dictating the person typing as someone else was dictating when you wrote it.
But… can you get through it? A procrastinator for life, you’ve only rehearsed once- an hour ago in your car, as you changed out of your basketball coach uniform in the church parking lot. Your son was the only audience at rehearsal, and he gave you a 10 for your performance from the backseat. I guess he doesn’t dock points for DNF…
This woman meant A LOT to you. Much more than you ever knew- that is, before you were asked to speak at her funeral.
You strategized while walking from your car to the church, hand in hand with a boy many that day would tell you is “literally you” circa 1980, that you would do your best to just read Mary’s Eulogy robotically. If you really thought about the words you were saying- and more importantly, whom you were saying them about, you had no chance of ever making it all the way through…
You struggled hard through the first few lines– up onstage, behind a podium, dressed like someone who never dresses up/who never grew up, unshaven, in front of hundreds of people, etc. Fuck…
And then you said something funny.
The mourners erupted and their laughter was Xanax… You could suddenly breath, your hands had stopped shaking (for the most part), and you felt like you do when you are at a poker table…
You never get nervous at a poker table. Like a basketball court growing up, it’s become your sanctuary, your most comfortable place to be (if only you didn’t have to play poker there/lose over and over AND OVER as a huge favorite!). Scarlet Johansson could be sitting there naked, next to El Chapo, next to Phil Ivey, next to Bob Dylan, next to Barrack Obama, next to Bill Gates, next to Oprah, next to an auctioneer- and you would be table captain. You would have them all doing shots and gambling and laughing their asses off…
As the laughter in the church subsides, you decide that you will in fact allow yourself to feel your words/actually think about the person you are saying them about. If/when you get overwhelmed, you will just take a couple deep breaths, look up to let everyone know that it is OK to cry and feel sadness sometimes, and then you will continue.
You weave your way in and out of your most telling/amazing childhood memories of your friend’s mom for maybe 10 minutes. Group sighs, followed by group laughter, followed by group silence- that quickly becomes the pattern… You only need to gather yourself maybe three times total. And you are basically at at poker table holding up a shot of Patron with 8 other degens as you begin to deliver your grand finale (the one you couldn’t get to in the car).
You tell the church that you and your friend had a real heart to heart after his mom died. That you took turns bragging about her for maybe two hours. And then it was like your friend heard his mom say, “OK, enough, you just gonna be a baby about this forever? Or are you going to move on with your life like I want you to?”
You tell the church that in that moment, your friend—for the first time ever—told you something about his mom that he didn’t like. You tell the hundreds in attendance that because your friend told you this thing in confidence- and that he said it may have actually scarred him a little growing up, you are not going to talk about it.
“No… I’m definitely not going to talk about how Mary was the first woman all our friends saw naked… Not here, not today.”
Your friend could only smile from the front row.
(Sorry, if you get GOAT mom, you don’t get to complain about her)
You look up to the crowd with swollen eyes and shiny, stubbled cheeks one last time, and you say “Thank you,” before walking back to your daughter-
to a standing ovation… Literally.
Laughter is important as hell- anywhere and always. It’s the opposite of stress. And being real- wearing some dumb mishmash of an old green long-sleeve shirt and old blue pants, with salt and pepper stubble and a bad haircut—because you are going through some shit yourself and that’s just where you are right now—is also important as hell. It’s the opposite of what gives people anxiety.
Thanks for teaching me those two things, Mary–> always be funny, and always be yourself… I only realized in the last few sentences of this blog post (the third one I’ve written about you) that it was you who taught me them. You certainly were hilarious. And you certainly did not give a fuck.
(yes, I’ll stop being a big baby now and get my shit together)
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