A few days ago a wonderful, sweet lady died. She used to teach children’s church when I was very young. I grew up with her grandson, and I have thought fondly of her for nearly all of my life. So, naturally, I felt honor-bound to attend her visitation.
As I approached the funeral home, apprehension set in. I knew there would be people, lots of people. I would be swarmed with people I didn’t know. I knew I hadn’t done well with crowds like this when I had attended other visitations. I tried to brace myself against the panic I knew I was about to feel.
I walked through the door.
Suddenly it felt as if everyone looked at me, only me. Like I’d shown up to give a speech wearing nothing but my underwear. I knew they saw me, and I knew they judged me. I knew this in my every being, but I also knew that it was all in my head. That they didn’t really care. That I was panicky for no good reason.
I headed for the end of the visitation line.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about–at all the funerals I’ve ever been to, a line forms in front of the casket where the family members stand. Funeral home-goers go through the line to talk to the family, then tend to break out in groups and talk to each other before they head home.
This line completely blows if you’re there by yourself because you wind up standing there awkwardly, not talking to anyone, with nothing to distract you from the fact that you’re willingly approaching someone’s dead body.
Except I wasn’t quite alone. My family was there too, but they were ahead of me in line and I couldn’t get to them without skipping. My mother frowned at me when I tried to skip the line, and I slunk miserably back to my place at the end.
Because I was wound up tight as a wire and couldn’t relax even if I wanted to, I said awkward and mildly inappropriate things unless asked direct, simple questions.
I’m pretty sure the lady who asked me if I knew the family didn’t want me to start an all out search to find where they were sitting so I could direct her attention to them.
I’m also sure that the worst thing possible to say at funerals are “you take care” and “how are you holding up?” I said both of those things. Like word vomit. Like I couldn’t stop myself.
To make things worse, I said them to people who obviously just wanted us all to go away so they could wallow in their grief.
Great. I win the “worst person ever” award.
And then I wanted to melt into the carpet. Or hide in the bathroom. Or run away screaming.
But I did none of these things.
I found my family and stuck to them like glue. Like I was a small child following my mom around in the grocery store. Otherwise, I was pretty sure I was going to hide behind the curtains until everyone else went home.
It was torture for me, as my mother talked to people she knew that I didn’t–with me hovering anxiously in the background. My grandmother flew from person to person with ease, making small talk and saying all the right things.
I was silent, scared of causing any more damage than I already had.
I wound up leaving early anyway. I stood around awkwardly until I thought I’d fulfilled the amount of time socially deemed acceptable to pay respects at a funeral home, and then I fled from that building like it was on fire.
I’m pretty sure that these feelings of fear and panic aren’t normal,and might need some sort of intervention. But I’m also sure that I’m a broke recent grad with no health insurance and no desire to stumble upon a “pre-existing condition.” Named social anxiety.
Besides, ignorance is bliss, right?