Clockwise from left: Jameson 2nd to youngest, Morgan middle child, Brady youngest, Marlon 2nd to oldest, Darvan oldest.
A week ago Friday I motored to West Virginia for a meeting with our funeral director to make arrangements to bury my mother, Susanne. Two days later I was in dress clothes next to an open casket greeting people in an old funeral home in Parkersburg.
My siblings have lived in Parkersburg a great deal of their lives. My grandfather Sam Slater was a local TV news man. People in Parkersburg know us. Rarely do my siblings go into a store without seeing someone they know. When I say people there know us, I mean everyone but me. I've lived in Kokomo my whole life and only visited WV a time or two per year.
So people would come into the funeral home and say, make a bee line to my brother Jameson standing next to me and never make eye contact with me until Jameson would redirect, "This is my brother Morgan from Indiana."
"Oh, you're the other brother!" they'd say as they'd now instantly looked at my face knowingly. And so it went, for the most part. After awhile I'd simply say in fun, "I'm the other brother." (To be fair I actually did know some people.)
And as I shook hands and navigated the occasional hug I noticed I didn't feel a lot of emotion. Even when some people wore emotion on their face of my mother's passing, it didn't translate to me. I thought this was because I was so relieved that my mother had passed peacefully in the night, and only followed three months not actively living in her own home. So I thought.
But the next day, the obituary had hit the Kokomo papers and websites. My phone started buzzing. Text after text, "I love you...sorry about your mom...praying for you." And it was then the emotion jumped up behind my face.
The day before I had people with weepy eyes right in front of me with no teary transference. But now, simple cold texts in the palm of my hand from close friends 330 miles away now evoked the emotion I was expecting the day before.
And quickly I realized what it was to miss the hundreds of people Sandra and I know here in Kokomo. And also realized that somehow being known translates into palpable feelings of love and feelings of loss. There is comfort in being known. Even apart from my mother's passing in WV, I've known it. Sandra and I often talk of what it is to know so many people around here.
Between our involvement in a large church, our business connecting over the years and now our new cafe downtown, we know the blessing of knowing people almost everywhere we go. Seeing someone knowingly smile when you happen upon them says, "I'm glad I saw you, now let me validate you as a person." Being known is a warm hug on a November morn.
When you know someone, say in the setting of a viewing or funeral, you ask questions: "How are you doing?...How are you holding up?" When you aren't known in those same settings, people make statements: "Hope you're doing well...I'm sorry for your loss."
And as statements convey kindness and compassion, they don't pull one another closer like questions do. Questions give you the opportunity to share the load a bit, as if to say, "Since you asked, I'll dump on you just a bit." And the load lightens.
I noticed this when talking to my friend Eric in passing at work today. He asked how I was doing. He told me in a compelling way that he and his fiance would be happy to do anything they could to help. I didn't tell him I needed anything. But I talked to him, about this: being known and not being known.
I got to voice a little something with someone who cares about me. Sharing, processing: the simple and undervalued byproduct of friendship. Another relational positive charge of being known.
So here's to life and death.
Here's to being able to be with my family as we said goodbye to our mother.
Here's to extended family and so many friends that supported us in Parkersburg.
And here's to all our friends in this neck o' the woods, blessings indeed.
So as we close in on Thanksgiving and who knows what events between here and there, let's be thankful, counting the blessings of being known--journeying together.
Shalom my friends.