Dressing for a friend’s funeral... I cannot conceive of a sadder thought. As my husband and I walked back and forth silently in our bedroom as we prepared ourselves to leave, it seemed like a most bizarre empty exercise. And then I thought, “What is the alternative? Do we wake up on the day of a loved one’s funeral and go out the door, unfed and unclothed?” Of course not. But still it felt banal.
And afterwards as we piled into the car, the lumps returning to our stomachs in anticipation of what lay ahead, I realized that the ritual of getting ready to go was a kind of glue that was holding us together. There for a few minutes, in a painful world full of minutes, the ritual was our friend. We were making choices and as a result we were grounding ourselves in our lives, the only lives we know, the lives we can be sure of at this nanosecond in time. We were clinging to the normalcy, grateful for the silent comfort in each other’s eyes in this specific second in time.
In the last days we have been reminded once again that it is only in the seconds of now that we can find any sure peace. It is only in the very moment of a glance into your loved ones eyes that you know you have each other. That is all we ever have, and we have been reminded of that fact in our friend’s untimely death. So we hug and touch each other as we pass from shower to front door without saying a word. We are locked in the understanding of how much we appreciate this moment in time that we still have, however painful it is.
And I wondered if the ritual didn’t act as our first friend as we return gratefully and reluctantly to the land of the living. I pondered that maybe ritual is always the first step from the moment someone you love dies. You are shocked and bloody grief-stricken, but in the hours following the news, you will put on the kettle and pick up the phone and pull something out of the fridge for dinner. You will live. Your stomach will feel like lead and your head will swirl with images and memories. You will take a shower, dry off and dress, without even noticing, so far will your mind be from reality. But you will do it.
I have always observed that generally North Americans are not good at the grieving process and have acknowledged that many other countries and cultures are good at it. I have always thought how healing it must be to be able to weep and wail and scream with fellow mourners and to do little else in the way of functioning. But then I got to thinking. When the weeping and wailing is over, aren’t we all the same? Don’t we all go into that place of great void. Doesn’t our emptiness consume us as we realize finally after the formal mourning period that our loved one is not coming back? We go through the shock, the pain, the divulging, the guilt, the regret and the agony of it. We’re tossed like empty shells washed up on the shore, into the funeral and reception where we have scraps of well-meaning but empty forgotten conversation with each other. We search each other’s eyes for meaning and for explanation, and then we go home saddened at finding none. And we put on the kettle and make tea and toast and we find ourselves comforted whether we want to be or not. And in those moments we are back to living. We are reminded again that life is so very fragile.
But we are also reminded that life is in these moments.
Barbara: Deb, it’s funny that you should speak of this. Because I totally remember thinking the same thing when I was getting ready for Paul’s funeral. It felt so bizarre and weird and wrong. And yet, I did find some solace in it—which then made me feel guilty!
You have expressed this process with such beauty and eloquence it actually hurts my heart. And then you take it one step further and find the grace in it. The imperative necessity to the living. I want to thank you for that. So utterly breathtaking, I want to weep and wail and then laugh and cheer. Just … thank you.