Deb: I remember when I was a kid and my Mom and Dad would go to a visitation or a funeral. It always seemed so incredible to me that they could function at all, let alone iron their funeral suits and go to a reception afterwards. I mean, isn’t this death? Aren’t they scared? Freaked out? And why aren’t they crying all the time? I would watch them come and go. And each time was different, accompanied by fluctuating levels of emotion. Their level of pain was on a sliding scale of sad depending on the deceased.
We have, all of us, suffered losses in our lives. Some are devastating and stay with us till we die, others are quite painful, some are sad, a few “regretful”, and others are “a darned shame.” It occurs to me that as we get older we almost need to have that Sliding Scale of Grief to cope with all the death and dying we encounter. It sounds awful, but whether or not we admit it, we rate death. We have to deal with everything from the death of our nearest and dearest which shatters us, to the death of a person we barely knew for whom we are just paying respect to a life lived.
I have come to accept that, but the thing I still struggle with is how accustomed and sometimes almost comfortable I am with the ritual of death. It has, at this time of life become a constant, a duty, a loving tribute, and even sometimes an obligation. We all know death is a part of life. And the irony is not lost on me that the appearance of death and my attendant juggling of schedules has become the most spontaneous part of my life. Sad but true. I go, I mourn.
Now I wonder why it is that I can take time at a moment’s notice and switch everything for funerals, but I can’t do it for something fun. I wonder why I can’t just clear my schedule for the possibility of something wonderful. Sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t. I continue to schedule my life on a dime––and then someone dies and all my planning goes to pot. Then I dutifully pull out “my funeral suit” and I go and I pay my respects, human to human. It’s what life is. It’s death. But I’ve gotten used to it.
Barbara: I’ve often wondered how you cope, Deb. Deb comes from a very large extended family and lives close to her relatives and all their close friends and family. She also has a huge range of friends and associates from years in one of the most socially-diverse jobs there is. I swear, not a month goes by where she doesn’t (sadly) have to attend another funeral. And I’ve seen how these funerals take their toll on her, both the near-and-dear ones and the dutiful-honouring ones. I never thought of it before, Deb, but I don’t doubt for a second that you must be getting “used to death” by now.
I, on the other hand, have not had the same huge, ever-expanding circles of friends and family, and friends of friends and family, and parents of friends and family. There have been some funerals of this ilk, yes, but nothing like your experience. And too many of the funerals I have had to attend have been for people too young for their deaths to be mundane.
But maybe there’s something strangely comforting in your words, Deb. It is our life-journey, right? so we shouldn’t be fundamentally undone by it. And these rituals that we have so wisely put in place around death really do help us make some kind of peace with it, don’t they? The visitations, the wakes, the eulogies, the sobbing, the drunken reminiscences, the human-to-human bonding. Who doesn’t go to a funeral and find themselves feeling a little cathartically better at some point? Even if it doesn’t last long, that catharsis makes it somewhat bearable. And it becomes our reminder that this is a normal part of life. Even one we can—or must––get used to.