I played the bagpipes at a funeral at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Chapel Hill Street in Durham this morning, just a couple of blocks from the house. I had met the funeral director at a neighborhood picnic a while back and he had put my name in his musicians file.
I originally thought that I'd have to don my regalia in the parking lot at work, but decided to bring some work home and then go from there.
Dorothy McDonald Cable was a fine woman--gentle, kind and funny, according to her obituary--and proud of her membership in Clan Donald. She was a fairly new convert to the Catholic Church (the last decade or so), having spent much of her life as a Methodist. She was born and died in Durham.
I warmed up and tuned in the room labeled "Bride." I piped after the Mass, after they sang "Ode to Joy." I played through "Amazing Grace" three times, while walking in from the back of the chapel, while gazing at the casket, then while leading the recession out of the chapel. I continued playing, "Flowers of the Forest" and "Bells of Dunblane," while the pallbearers brought the coffin out and loaded it onto the hearse.
As always, it was nice to help out, a gift to share. Also, as always, being able to watch the nonspiritual side of the funeral preparations was comforting--seeing death as a daily event, a regular occurrence. Since I was not at graveside this time, I did not hang out with the "vault man," or watch the funeral home people place cloth covers over the folding chairs and unload the floral wreaths from their van for placement around the burial site. But I did watch the women of the church, casually efficient but not somber, laying out the food as they have undoubtedly done many times before. The police arrived about 15 minutes before the end of the Mass, earnestly inquiring about the location of the funeral, not trusting, apparently, the sight of the limousine and hearse in the parking lot. The funeral director inadvertently gave me the check for the organist.
Grief is peculiar. As part of the funeral machinery and as an outsider, I did not feel deeply at the event. But a young man died at UNC this week, an apparent suicide of a gifted boy, and I shed tears reading his story in the newspaper today.