It did not come as a surprise. Instead of surprise, it was more like a sad resignation. After all, it was really the only conceivable ending for a troubled, lonely, and unspectacular life.
In some places, among some people, the departure would have been marked with shame and disgust for a life wasted and worthless. Condemning failure and shunning the one who failed somehow seems to maintain the uninterrupted value and meaning of life. And so it is that death, or at least the thought of death, is put off ... indefinitely.
But in this place, among these people, the departure is not so meanly marked. This is a place of conservative views and a people whose living roots stretch far back into the hazy and almost forgotten years of the Great Depression and World War II. Judging in this case would be expected to be harsh ... very harsh.
In these days where families are dispersed across the country and even across the globe, the clan is something of an anachronism. All the more remarkable then is the solemn and respectful appearance of every one of the living blood relatives from the elder generation of both sides of the family, most of whom are in their 80s.
The image projected on the rolling cemetery lawn on that sunny and mild autumn day in this small south Alabama town and ancestral home was that of a latter day Scottish clan, American for many, many generations, but fiercely united in the family rituals of death and the show of solidarity in the face of the unknown.
Judging, there would doubtless be. Guilt, there would be. Forgetting, there would also be. Nevertheless, for one extended moment there would be a oneness. The moment passes into memory preserving the experience of the clan gathering to send one of their own to the other side and holding on to one another in an unspoken promise.
And so, the judging was hushed.
Only one breach had been heard, but it was of no consequence. It was just the perpetual mourner who marked the death of his loved one by seeking out every opportunity to attend the funerals announced in the local newspaper.
Peter McMillan, whose roots are in Alabama and Georgia, is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario.