I attended two funerals in three days.
The first was a well-attended affair, the culmination of a life well lived. The second was a sparsely attended affair, the end of years of suffering.
The first funeral was held at graveside for a man who lived long enough to have two full careers. The first working for the railroad, the second as a magistrate judge (an elected position). There were more than 200 people in attendance, judges, lawyers, cops, city and county officials, a fair cross section of the county. I was at the funeral because I knew the judge professionally.
The second funeral was held at a local parlor for a young lady just 20 years old. Hers’ was a life lived in private, any chance at a career cut short by time and circumstance. There were about 40 people in attendance, mostly family, friends and neighbors. I was at the funeral because she was my neighbor.
The judge was the proverbial pillar of the community, a man well liked and respected. So much so that two years prior to his death at the age of 91 his was feted at a lifetime achievement ceremony attended by a former governor of the state. Those who spoke at his funeral said he was no respecter of person, that everyone one who came before him was treated fairly no matter their social, financial or legal status. A small wiry man he was recognizable by the hat, a vestige of older sartorial tastes. He was also known to tell colorful stories from his long colorful life. Everyone who knew him had a story to tell.
Alyssa was not a public figure. Her life did not follow a slow graceful arc to the grave. She lived her adolescent and adult years in the throes of severe mental illness. Her death came after she wrecked her car on the interstate, crashing into the trees and breaking her leg in several places. In the hospital the expected healing did not take place. Eventually, after multiple complications, her life ended. It was not a peaceful end. It was a gut wrenching emotional ride.
The doctor who delivered her eulogy spoke of the stigma of mental illness. He rightly said that we must not be afraid to speak of these things and of the terrible treatment that many with mental health issues endure in our society. Treated as second-class citizens, as somehow intrinsically flawed, as less human. As beings worthy only of scorn, of derision, of apathy. We forget that behind the mask of pain, beneath the surface scoured by grief, was a lovely young woman created in His image.
The others who spoke remembered her struggles, her despair. They spoke of the years before the illness, told stories from her childhood. They acknowledged her humanity. Even after all the rage, all the battles, all the brokenness, still someone’s daughter, her mother’s little girl. Not someone to be scorned or mocked, or ignored. A little girl to be embraced, to protect against the monsters.