I sat there in church, angry.
I tried to quiet my thoughts and focus on the purpose of being there.
It was a cavernous sanctuary, which was necessary. Funerals for young people are well-attended.
The vestiges of the Holy Roman Church came back to me without a second thought. It was both seamless and unconscious.
This wasn’t my first Catholic funeral. I know the liturgy by heart. I even know when to ring the bells and the proper cadence to set aloft the plumes of incense, carrying our prayers to heaven.
I’ve read and memorized the St. Joseph’s catechism. My hands have been rapped by rulers and worse. During my tenure as an altar boy, I stood close, looking down into innumerable open caskets, wishing I could be anywhere else doing anything else.
The funeral I attended this morning for Andrew was old-school Catholic, like Vatican II Catholic. The women veiled their heads. Stations of the Cross adorned the walls. I caught the familiar whiff of frankincense.
There was no casket. Front and center stood a simple stainless-steel urn and a large smokeless, beeswax candle.
As the surpliced alter boy lit candles and hymns played on an unseen organ, friends and family slowly found their places. It was a time of unfathomable grief and regret.
Unlike the patriarchy on the altar, those in attendance were diverse in age, race, sex and likely creed. Andrew’s friends, set apart by their ink, dreds, and piercings, sat in the back of the sanctuary. I joined them there.
It must have been a strange sight. A Yeti with a bowtie, I’m accustomed to sticking out like a sore thumb. More than one person confused me as an usher, including someone wearing an official name tag formally charged with that duty.
I smiled and pointed people in the right direction as I knew how. It wasn’t hard. I’m used to people anxious about their surroundings feeling lost.
All looked with sorrow towards the altar and Andrew’s family. Seeing those in attendance you’d understand Andrew was a complex, dearly loved soul who appealed to lots of different types of people. I expected nothing less.
When Tom passed me by in the procession, I kept my head down. This time I couldn’t reach out, shake his hand or meet eyes. He was too busy holding up his wife, who was beside herself with anguish.
Local police officers were there too, although this time it wasn’t to bust Andrew. Instead, they were there to escort him to his grave.
They clearly knew Andrew and liked him. After the ceremony, the officers I saw inside the sanctuary waited in line just like everyone else, hugging Tom and Andrew’s mom as their time came.
If you imagine police officers think only of their official duties, you’d be wrong. They care as much as anyone I’ve ever met about suffering and affliction.
They are sickened by the useless loss of life due to addiction. First responders see the consequences of impaired driving, well, first. We don’t really talk in polite company about what they are forced to manage at the scene of a fatal wreck.
They do their jobs, wanting to make a difference, just like judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors, clerks and everyone within our system of justice. And while we may occasionally disagree on points of law in court, I truly respect the work they do and their heart.
So there I sat, bad attitude and all, angry about something I could not change or fix. As a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria washed over me, of course, that’s when it hit me.
Both in my Protestant service yesterday and during the Catholic funeral today, I heard two versions of the same reading that is almost always reserved for weddings.
It was somewhat odd to hear it on a normal Sunday. I took it as a quasi-sign to hear it again this morning.
I’m editing the verses to include the parts I like, which state:
- If I speak in languages of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
- If I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
- If I give all I possess to the poor, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
- Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
- It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
- It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.
- Love never fails.
It doesn’t matter if you are a person of faith, agnostic, or an atheist. That’s not bad advice. Love one another.
I don’t know why it was necessary for Andrew to die; but, I feel certain of one thing. He loved people.
He was a good person and I’ll miss him. So will a lot of others, including those who believe in God and those who don’t.
It was an honor to know him and to serve as his advocate. In his memory, I’m going to work on telling more people I love them.
I think I’ll start with the crew who sits in the back of churches. I have a feeling Andrew would have liked that.
North Carolina Treatment Centers
Behavioral Health Intervention Center
The tragedy of Addiction