« farewell | Main | Happy Birthday Donald Duck, You Dirty Old Man »

Funerals, Pride and Dignity

I've been to more than 100 funerals and/or wakes; a very large extended family makes for lots of death over time. Most of the funerals and wakes were for older people whose deaths were expected. Some were even greeted with a sigh of relief. At those funerals, there was the loud chatter of relatives who had not seen each other since the last death in the family. Sad affairs, of course. But not somber. Perhaps it's an Italian thing to see wakes and funerals of our elders family reunions. The familial exception here would by my grandfather's funeral. He was old and sickly and in the end we waited for him to die. His wake was a celebration of sorts. The family gathering after the burial was nearly a party. But the funeral itself was somber, made so by the firematic service he received. When we walked out of the funeral home the morning of the burial, the uniformed firemen formed a line on either side of us and saluted as we walked past. My grandfather's body, in a flag-draped coffin, was lifted onto the back of a firetruck that had been adorned in flowers. As we drove past the firehouse, and again as we approached the cemetery, there were fire trucks on either side of the road with outstretched ladders forming a bridge that we passed under. It was quite touching, a testament to my grandfather and his dedication to the fire service and his community. We were all overwhelmed by the honor given to our patriarch. I would not see or feel anything like that until September of 2001, at the wake of Pete Ganci. From my archives (those early dates are accesible only through archive.org) bq. I can't put into thoughts right now how affected I was by attending the wake. The line to get in was around the block. And this isn't because he died a very public death, it's because that's the kind of man Pete was; that people would stand in line for hours to pay respect to him.
I've been to so many wakes in my life, more than I care to count. There is always an air of sadness, a sense of solemnity. But here, there was something more....The numbness and disbelief of the past few days melted away as I kneeled in front of Pete's casket, his Fire Department uniform hanging next to it. There were pictures on a table to the right. To the left, his golf club leaned on a table. The flowers, so many flowers: Beloved uncle, friend, father, brother. And I kneeled there and looked at all these things, and looked at the closed casket and touched it, ever so briefly, and looked at Justin next to me and cried. That was my second personal experience with solemnity of death. After I finished my bout of crying that night, I was able to look back at the wake and feel a sense of pride. Pride for Pete's family, for his life, for his service to the city of New York and its people and pride that I could say I knew this man. It was the the dignified, stately aura that surrounded the affair that gave me that sense of pride. Even those who didn't know Pete could sense it and feel it. Something like that overwhelms you and lends to the swell of emotions that are brought to the surface. There was one more after that. Not a funeral, per se, but a memorial service for Claude Richards, a member of the New York City bomb squad who died on 9/11. bq. There were dogs. Bomb sniffing, loyal dogs, sporting red, white and blue bandanas around their necks and they stood color guard as if they were born to do that. There were policemen. Thousands of them, literally. They lined the street 10 deep and hundreds across. There were army men, Airborne men, decked out in dress gear, reassuring and scary at the same time. And in the middle of this, there were people. Regular, everyday people who aren't heros of the life saving kind. Friends, relatives, neighbors who had come to say a few words, to pat someone on the back, to tell them it will be alright.
There were other things today. The motorcycles with their quiet roar parading up the street, flanking the limousines that held the family. The three men standing on top of a Special Services truck, playing taps on their bugles while NYPD helicopters circled overhead and someone in the church belted out Ave Maria, all at the same moment, causing me to ask my mother, "Is this real?" because in my world just a month ago, this would be a movie. Not my life.
There was the woman who wrenched the heart of everyone in the place as she sang a soulful, mourning Danny Boy. The bagpipes. The standing ovation the mourners spontaneously gave to the members of the police department as they made their way out of the church. The men and women of that department streaming out with tears in the eyes of each and every one. I've never been and never will be to anything as solemn and sober as the service for Claude Richards. I did not know Mr. Richards, only his family. I knew of him. I knew the things he did and I knew how much his family admired him, how everyone he touched admired and loved him. It was the somber, stoic appearance of his brother and the solemn reverence paid to him by his friends and colleagues that made me cry as if I had known him like they did. And so it was watching Ronald Reagan's flag-draped coffin being hoisted by men in uniform yesterday. So it was, as I watched Nancy Reagan, seeming so small and slight, run her hands along the coffin. Of course I did not know Ronald Reagan. Most of us have never met the man. Yes, he was our president and we knew much about him from the years he served us. Yet there is so much we did not know and in order to see what kind of man Reagan was one only need to look at his wife as she mouthed the words "I can't believe it." You need only to look at the citizens who lined the streets yesterday to watch as Reagan's coffin passed by them. You need only to have seen the long line of people who waited ten hours for a chance to pay their respects for only ten seconds or so. From the soldier who accompanied Nancy yesterday, to the honor guards, to the riderless horse, the 21 gun salutes, the missing man formation, the solemnity of the uniformed soldiers, to the words spoken by so many, it would be hard not to get choked up watching the ceremony unfold. I felt a pride of country yesterday, in the sense that we are showing the world our dignity, the kind of dignity that comes with solemnity. I found myself standing in front of the television yesterday. Standing. What I was seeing both demanded my respect and brought out a fierce sense of pride. Perhaps if you did not like Reagan's policies or his legacy you will not have felt that same pride I did, the very same pride I felt at my grandfather's funeral, the same pride I felt for having known Pete Ganci, the same overwhelming pride I vicariously felt for Claude Richards's family.

TrackBack

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Funerals, Pride and Dignity:

» http://www.websch01ar.com/archives/000015.php from Websch01ar
I do not think I could say it any better than Michelle has here [Read More]

» This Was a Man from Bendomenech.com
We got in line yesterday around 3 PM, with about a hundred people ahead of us. We were dead center in the front row, bordering on the reflecting pool, looking straight ahead at the Capitol and the glowering statue... [Read More]

Comments

I was standing at 3rd and Constitution, NW, in front of the Department of Labor when Reagan's cassion passed by. Just before it did, 21 F-15 fighters flew almost directly over my head at less than 1000 feet. The lead aircraft of the last flight of four peeled off into the missing man formation, which is when one plane makes a steep climb, resulting in a missing place where a plane should be. This guy pushed his aircraft straight up until he practically stalled it. It was quite impressive.

I really miss the Gipper. I was 6 years old when he pantsed Mondale. I remember because Mom is a Democrat, and my vocabulary of foul language expanded by entire orders of magnitude that night. Reagan always reminded me of my grandfather, and many of my friends my age feel the same way. Thanks to him I no longer have to spend the wee hours of the night pondering the notion that somewhere across the ocean, a nation of slaves with the world's largest standing army was pointing a nuclear arsenal capable of killing every man, woman and child on Earth several times over at me. When I was eight years old I used to lie awake at night, less than 100 miles from Plattsburgh Air Force Base (where B-52s were stationed), Ft. Drum and Rome Air Force Base, and ponder that scenario. A few years after Reagan left office that nightmare ended. He was our third-greatest President, in my opinion, behind Washington and Lincoln.

After witnessing the ceremony yesterday, a friend and I went to a Scottish bar across the street and we each poured a tumbler of Johnny Walker Blue onto the ground.

Sure, it was $25, but it was for our dead President.

Lot of tears yesterday. And more to follow shortly, I'm sure. But you're right about the pride, and also the appreciation and thanks for what he did for us all.

I've been out of the Army for nearly 20 years, but watching yesterday, I, too, had to stand. And salute.

Amazing, I just knew that I was not the only one standing in the middle of my livingroom last night. With tears in my eyes and pride in this nation.

Damn Michele,
I've got to remember not to read these kind of posts when I'm consulting at a customer site. I got tears coming down my face and people are looking at me funny.

I cried, too. What undid me most was when the commentator pointed out that the reversed boots on the riderless horse were Reagan's own.

And I, too, felt compelled to stand as I watched the honor guard carry his casket.

We will not see this man's like again, I'm afraid.

His time in office ran the span of my time in J.H. and H.S. When he left office it felt strange. With his passing it feels like I have lost part of my family.

I caught the whole thing on C-Span last night (and I really liked not having to turn down the volume to escape talking heads)... listening to the band, watching the honor guard, hearing the sound of the horse steps on the pavement.

And yes, without knowing just quite how, I found myself standing while they carried him up all those steps.

Over 100,000 flocked to the Reagan Library, civilians, policemen, fireman formed honorguards along the freeways as his hearse moved up to the Library then down to the waiting aircraft to take him to DC. The crowds in DC were 15 deep along the route.

And many of the old "Ronnie was dump as a stump" media really can't get a handle on the huge outpouring of love and honor that is being demonstrated. They still don't get it.

I grew up under Gov. Reagan who took a state almost run into bankruptcy by Pat Brown and turned it around. I raised my kids under President Reagan who took a country almost bankrupt both fiscally and spiritually by Jhimmi Carter and turned it around. And through it, it wasn't just that he was a wonderfully genuine communicator, but that he communicated great and genuine ideas.

Maybe it was Dutch's midWest common sense and 'what you see is what you get' sensibility that captured the hearts of us unwashed masses while the "sophisticates" of the "we know whats best for you" crowd of the blue states stood aghast. My own grandfather was so like Reagan, from humble beginnings in Penn. to working his way to California, to dedicating himself to his family. Strangers to him were friends he hadn't met yet and when he passed his funeral was a solemn affair followed by a wonderful celebration of his life by his family and friends.

I miss him still and I will miss the quiet strength of Reagan.

Great. I'm crying at my desk 6 minutes before a meeting with the company bigwigs. Time to hit the bathroom and collect myself.

Thanks for that, Michele.

Great post. I watched on 6 tvs at my Irish pub, each tuned to a different news channel. C-span had the best coverage, 'cause they talked the least.

--s

I think I cried more last night than I have since the days right after 9/11. The moments where I completely lost it were the 21-gun salute started, just at the same time as the military bands began playing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, when Nancy touched the casket after the service and turned to the Vice-President, and then when Lady Thatcher said her goodbye and curtsied.

I'm still at a loss for words, and in tears again, so thank you, Michele, for perhaps expressing what many of us feel better than we could ourselves.

I watched C-Span at 2 AM this morning, 3 AM EST -

People stopped to watch the changing of the guard. They were packed in. After the Changing and they left, the stream didn't stop.

I have C-Span on the computer right now, reported that by 5 AM an estimated 80K had already viewed the body. It's a 3-4 hour wait as I'm writing this.

3 other things struck me, some young men forgetting to take off their caps.

The children who were there, the people in suits.

Also, I wonder how many people had never been to The Capitol either never or not for a very long time?

A lot of people looking up and around.

It's good we get to The Peoples' House ever now and then.

Sandy, I was watching it at about the same time on C-Span and thinking the exact same things!

Stood at 14th and Constitution yesterday. There were a few families with kids acting like it was Six Flags instead of a funeral, but for the most part, people provided the dignity the occasion warranted. Deeply moving. I feel proud to have shared part of my lifespan with Ronald Reagan, and hope I'll be able to explain to my kids what he meant for America and for the world.

I thought I was the only one that felt he had to stand while watching the ceremony.

I think the best response Ive heard from all the interviews with all the people waiting in line to see President Reagan was:

I am here for the Republic.

I was unable to watch, had unavoidable errands and appointments. I was in the car, coming out of Dallas' suburbs, listening on the radio. I noticed more than one car pulled to the side of the highway, occupants crying.

Man! Ray Charles too.

This is not a good week.

Here's a very interesting POV from one of the regulars at LGF, "reaganite", who was with the Secret Service detail yesterday:
Yesterday was a draining/emotional day. We got to the site about 2:15. Those of you in the DC area know how hot it was. I do not recommend a suit in that kind of weather. We started our sweep of Constitution Ave. As soon as we moved out of the shade we all started sweating very heavily. It took about an hour to do our sector. Once the sweep was done, we went into stand-by mode until Ronald Reagan arrived. I was standing about 100 feet away on the right side of the street. This was a point I was glad to be sweating so much, I was able to wipe my eyes without anyone really noticing. The crowd started applauding Nancy Reagan, I was really glad to hear it.

Do read the whole thing!

There is something so amazing, so stunningly beautiful when men and women in uniform render honors to the dead.

No wonder we get choked up.

I also noticed that underneath the displays of emotion was a smoldering fierceness that even the most deranged were careful to not ignite. They could sense the potential for extermination.