When I learned via text message that my friend Jack had died, I was surprised and saddened. I heard he was receiving kidney dialysis, and assumed that his death was related to that. I put him at close to 70 years of age.
Jack and I were deacons at the church where one of his two younger brothers is pastor. Having held the position longer than me, Jack was my trainer and mentor. He was also my good friend. Outside of church, we shared a fondness for jazz, classical music, and for a time, pipe smoking.
After I left that church we rarely saw each other, but I still counted Jack as a friend. He greeted me warmly the last time I saw him a couple of years ago at his church. I was there for my granddaughter’s christening. Surprised to see me, Jack gave me his hand, and we embraced. We whispered a few words of fidelity, and that was that.
Between his death on a Tuesday and the Saturday funeral, I tried to make that last meeting the opening lines of a poem in Jack’s honor, but got no further than a few bad couplets. I put it aside and promised myself to work on it later.
The funeral was scheduled for a different church than Jack’s. I arrived a half-hour before the family hour and parked in the lot across the street to finish my carry-out coffee.
Other vehicles took places in the parking lot. From two of them came people who were members of the church when I was a deacon and who I had not seen in more than a decade. We hugged and briefly reminisced.
Jack’s family had started to arrive in front of the church and I went over to them. One of the first I greeted was the youngest of his two brothers, followed by the middle brother, his wife, and others. Then, sensing someone on my left, I turned and looked into a man’s eyes.
It was Jack.
For a split second, I thought I was mistaken, that it was someone else. I refocused. No, it’s him. I was sure of it.
As we shook hands, two questions popped into my head that I’d never asked myself before:
Is this a ghost? and Besides me, does anyone else see him?
After a few seconds, the rational side of my brain pushed those strange questions aside and replaced them with the truth:
The funeral was for Jack’s father. His name was Jack, too — Jack, Sr.
My head stopped spinning, and I hoped that, if there was a strange look on my face, it was gone. I went inside the church and there was Jack, Sr., where everyone but me had expected he would be, in a casket.
How did I get it so wrong?
The short answer is, I forgot that there were two Jacks, which led me to misread the text message and send the wrong man to the hereafter.
Nevertheless, there are a few reasons why I am glad I attended the funeral.
First, had I not gone, and run into Jack the deacon on the street, I’m not sure I would have handled it well.
Second, while I knew Jack, Sr., less well than his sons, I liked him and enjoyed his company. It felt good to pay my respects to him and his family.
Third, in addition to the folks in the parking lot, there were many other people I saw before and after the service who I had not seen in many years. It was good to see them all.
Finally, I don’t have to worry about finishing that poem.