Always Go To The Funeral As a child, Deirdre Sullivan learned from her father to always pay her respects at funerals. Now, this NPR listener believes those simple acts of human kindness are as important as the grand gestures.

Always Go To The Funeral

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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe that a generation of young people...

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe it deeply and sincerely.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the importance of passing this knowledge...

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that everyone wants to love and be loved.

Unidentified Man #4: All of these add up to my belief in the dignity of the individual.

Unidentified Man #5: I believe in people.

Unidentified Man #6: This I believe.


For our revival of the 1950s radio series This I Believe, we've been asking you to send us your short statements of personal belief. One of the several thousand we've received came from Deirdre Sullivan. She's a 33-year-old attorney from Brooklyn, New York. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

Many of the essays listeners have sent us are about beliefs they were taught. Sometimes those beliefs are followed, sometimes rejected, sometimes they grow in surprising ways. That was the case for Deirdre Sullivan. She discovered a guiding principle in a humble suggestion from her father, and she now applies it broadly in her life. Here is Deirdre Sullivan with her essay for This I Believe.


I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that. The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson(ph), my old fifth-grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. `Dee,' he said, `you're going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family.' So my dad waited outside while I went in. It was worse than I thought it would be. I was the only kid there. When the condolence line deposited me in front of Miss Emerson's shell-shocked parents, I stammered out, `Sorry about all this,' and stalked away. But for that deeply weird expression of sympathy delivered 20 years ago, Miss Emerson's mother still remembers my name and always says hello with tearing eyes.

That was the first time I went unchaperoned but my parents had been taking us kids to funerals and calling hours as a matter of course for years. By the time I was 16 I'd been to five or six funerals. I remember two things from the funeral circuit: bottomless dishes of free mints and my father saying on the ride home, `You can't come in without going out, kids. Always go to the funeral.'

Sounds simple. When someone dies, get in your car and go to calling hours or the funeral. That I can do, but I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals means more than that. `Always go to the funeral' means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I really don't have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me but the world to the other guy: you know, the painfully underattended birthday party, the hospital visit during happy hour, the shivah call for one of my ex's uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good vs. evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days my real battle is doing good vs. doing nothing.

In going to funerals I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand, heroic gesture I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable occasional calamity. On a cold April night three years ago, my father died a quiet death from cancer. His funeral was on a Wednesday, middle of the workweek. I had been numb for days when, for some reason during the funeral, I turned and looked back at the folks in the church. The memory of it still takes my breath away. The most human, powerful and humbling thing I've ever seen was a church at 3 on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people who believe in going to the funeral.

ALLISON: Deirdre Sullivan with her essay for This I Believe. Since establishing her credo, Sullivan says the number of funerals she's attended is too many to count.

If you would like to share your credo or read or hear all the essays we've broadcast, visit our Web site at For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

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