Sister Elizabeth asked what I found out, and I told them what I knew. “I wonder if he was a Christian,” I said.
“You could go…to the…the funeral,” Sister Mary said.
“Oh, I could never do that.” I put my fork down and looked down at my plate.
“Why not?” Sister Elizabeth said.
“Wouldn’t that be presumptuous?” I could not look at them.
“Sarah, the poor man died in your arms. I think you have a right to go to his funeral.” Sister Elizabeth sounded a little exasperated.
“What would Brother Jed say?”
“Don’t worry about that, Sarah. You go if you need to.”
SATURDAY I GOT OFF THE BUS across the street from the cremation society, a modern building in a nice neighborhood. I was surprised to see that it looked much like any funeral home; it appeared very respectful and tasteful, but also very nondenominational. People were arriving, cars pulling in the lot on the south side, and several people stood by the doors talking. I waited for traffic to clear on the busy four-lane street and crossed.
I walked up to the door, and, taking a deep breath, I walked right in. A good number of people milled about, many older, nearly all dressed in black. I did not own any black, so I wore what I always wore, plus my favorite green sweater that Sister Olive knit for me. I took it off and draped it over my arm. In the entrance, a table held mimeographed programs, and on the front of the program was a picture of Mr. Finnegan holding two little boys on some happy occasion. I put a program in my pocket. I looked around. No crosses were in sight. Nature photography decorated the lobby, and the furniture looked much like what I grew up with, Danish Modern. Beautiful flower arrangements lined one wall, and I wondered if they were all for Mr. Finnegan or were there other services that day?
I walked through the crowd to where a bulletin board covered in pictures leaned against the wall. There he was. As a child, playing on a swing. Learning to ski. Riding a bicycle. A teen going to the prom. In a letter jacket with a girl. There he was as an adult, as a father, as a husband. At Christmas. On vacations. In front of a barbecue. Behind the counter of what looked like a pharmacy. He looked much heavier than I remembered him. Cheeks round. Nothing hinted at how we met.
People crowded around to get a good look at the pictures, so I made way. I moved slowly across the room, through the people standing in twos, threes, and fours. I listened carefully. People socialized with each other as if it were a party, and sometimes I heard snippets of conversation about Mr. Finnegan.
“I can’t believe this,” a chubby gray-haired woman said to a bald man.
“It’s just sad is all. Just sad,” he said.
“He had such a great sense of humor. And he would do anything for you.”
“So true. Do you want something to drink?” And off they went to the punch bowl.
I stopped next to a tall blond woman holding a baby. “Do you know what he was on?” she said.
“I heard heroin,” her friend, a thin woman in a dress far too short and shoes far too tall, replied.
“Heroin! That’s so low class.”
“That’s what I hear, anyway.”
“I mean, who uses heroin? Now coke or Quaaludes, sure, but heroin?”
The smell of flowers was overwhelming, and between the smell and all the strange things, I began to feel a little dizzy. I got to the far wall where there was a very modern green sofa. I sat and watched. I found it fascinating; I had not been to a funeral in eight years, when my grams died shortly after I turned sixteen. That funeral looked a lot like this, except the people were a lot older and there were a lot fewer of them. Grams was old, and not too many of her friends were there at the end. I was so upset; she had taken care of me like a daughter, and I missed her so.
Now I felt happy for Grams. And I was happy for Mr. Finnegan as well. They were in the arms of Jesus. I know Grams was, anyway.