I’m not sure what you’re supposed to listen to on the way to a funeral.
It was an hour from Omaha to the funeral home in Lincoln. Podcasts seem like too much of a distraction. Good music seems like too much, too. The radio is impersonal. Sports talk offensive.
There’s no good answer. So I listened to the sound of the car wishing past me in the fast lane, and the rattle of my coffee cups in the back seat.
The entire drive I kept thinking about Dave. And how unfair this was. And how we’d all react. How real it was all about to become.
For a week we’d been living inside this bubble. Inside this world where we had Dave, but we also did. We called each other to talk about Dave. But the truth was, none of us really kept track of Dave after he left.
Why would we? He was the smartest of us. The brightest. He knew how to fix cars. He knew how to fix the world. He knew how to get a job and to hike and to plan and to travel. What would he need us for?
He graduated before us. That’s how prepared he was for the world. A whole semester. And he wasn’t chatty. And he didn’t love emotions so no, he wasn’t going to call you on your birthday or to ask how work was.
So when the call came that he’d died, immediately nothing changed. We went about our days Daveless like usual. And then the funeral was set, and with each creeping day, it became a little more real.
I parked and got out, the cold punching through my suit.
Dave wasn’t all that religious. He apparently believed in a higher being, but Dave needed logic. God isn’t a lot of logic. So he struggled with that. That’s just what we were told.
So the funeral home hosted the funeral. Dave’s body was not there. In the front of the room, a wooden box sat on a small table next to some flowers. It could’ve been an urn. It wasn’t clear.
We stood in the lobby. No one wanted to be the first in the room. A photo of Dave hiking, staring behind him and smiling was on a pedestal at the front of the room. It’s a great photo. The best taken of him, and it isn’t even close. Him, looking back at you like you just impressed him with a witty joke, and he was about to give you some knuckled before he hiked up his backpack, and he’d up the snowy mountain.
We took seats near the front and I scanned the stage, covered in flowers. All over, in no particular order, bouquets with small cards. Yellow, white, roses, daisys.
I kept thinking of what Dave would think about all that. That if he was next to me, with that black suit jacket, that dark blue button up and the red and cream tie, what he’d say.
He’d shrug. That’s what he’d do. He’d shrug. And he’d feel a little bad, but he’d tap me on the shoulder. He’d lean his head down.
“There’s uh,” he’d say, motioning his hands forward. “Too many flowers.”
And sitting in the pew, while the ceremony began, I wondered what else Dave would say. About what he’d deduced, in his time in the afterlife, about what he could have done differently in that car that night. If he could’ve waited another night to go to Home Depot. If he could’ve taken another route. If he could’ve gone an hour later, or 40 minutes earlier.
Or if whatever made him swerve wasn’t born, or wasn’t placed in the road by a lazy construction worker. Or if he’d never gotten that job in Austin, or if he’d had to stay at work late that night, or if he and Ashley had plans or if he had taken an early vacation.
He’d have an answer by now, and he might be pissed about it. We were.
His dad talked about the gifts Dave gave him. The joy it brought him to be his dad. Dave’s mom talked about the books she read to try and understand him better. Ashley -- poor Ashley -- talked about the year and a half she had with the love of her life.
This was the first time we’d met her. At her boyfriend's funeral. Poor Ashley.
Rob talked about Dave hitting life out of the park. Batting fourth in our joke order and cleaning up. Michael called Dave a brother.
We all cried. We all hurt.
We ate Dave’s favorite food afterward. Runza’s and burritos. And we caught up and we hugged and we tried to pack the sadness down with How Are You’s and Where Are You Now’s and Who Do You Work For and How Are Your Folks and Remember Whens.
As long as we were talking, things were OK. As long as our minds were working out puzzles of each others lives, trying to fit pieces back together from stories prior, things were ok. But when we weren’t talking, we were holding cups of coffee or lemonade or water and when the silence came, when there were no words, Dave came back into our minds. And we saw the face of his dad crying just 20 minutes ago again. And we saw the Eagle Scout sash on the table outside the funeral and all the awards, and we remember his face and his cheeks and his glasses. We remember his walk and his laugh and how when he got drunk, he wouldn’t talk because he claimed his tongue was too big.
We remembered and it hurt. And it felt good to hurt but it still hurt.
And so we talked and tried to bury it all day.
When I left, I sat in my car trying to figure out what to play on my phone. What do you play after a funeral?
Happy music is sinister. A podcast is too impersonal. The radio too much reality.
So I drove to work to the sound of cars, and the rattle of the coffee cups, and thought about Dave sitting next to me in the car. And I thought about the drivers side door he was in getting smashed, and I thought about his mom, and his dad, and how we don’t get to decide many things in this world, but we do get to decide who is allowed into our world.
And how I’m glad Dave allowed me into his.