“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” Ecclesiastes 3
It is finally, officially Spring … and not a moment too soon. I’ve been living in a season of sadness lately … a season of funerals. Sometimes, it feels kind of Biblical, Jobian, like I’ve been “walking through the valley of death.” Just when it feels like it’s lifting, another crushing loss comes around.
Years ago, a friend of mine said to me, “I feel like you are always going to baby showers and funerals.” She’s right. The gifts — and challenges — of being part of a big, rambling family is that there is always a lot of a lot. Births, baptisms, First Communions, illness, hospitalizations, funerals, burials. Successes, failures, worries, joys. Like shark teeth, it all just keeps coming and coming and coming.
Living through these funerals recently, it struck me that planning a funeral is like planning a sad wedding in about three days. The flurry of funeral arrangements, preparing for imminent death, worrying about the widow, the widower, the grieving family, family dynamics at play, worries, fears, facing your own mortality, your siblings/parents/friends’ mortality. Feeding people, crying, laughing, gallows humor, crying some more. Keeping the vigil … “Love you … See you on the other side.” Trippy, strange dreams, sleepless nights. Raging against a church that feels cold, difficult. More trippy dreams, loving remembrances, weepy conversations, staring at the ceiling, staring out the window, talking to the dog, rolling this way and that in bed at night. Comfort food, more comfort food, finding sensible shoes for the marathon of an Irish wake, an Irish funeral, finding clothes that fit. And are clean.
Buying control top pantyhose so that the dress does fit, after eating all that comfort food.
Worrying about the widow, the widower and the grieving family members, who are falling ill from stress and lack of sleep. Getting the antibiotics, calling the doctor, getting the widow to the doctor. “Is she confused from a UTI? Stress?” Keeping the welcome mat open for family members to come, hide, talk, cry, smoke, drink. Keeping the peace. Assembling family photos of the deceased, making sure all families are represented there, figuring out the technical aspects of sharing those photos with guests, making sure the story of the deceased is told well, appropriately, thoroughly, enough. Bringing family home from out of town, home from Europe, leaving time for the relatives from far and wide to come in, to pay respects, to say good bye … The rambling, out-of-body conversations with well-meaning folks. Meeting people that the deceased not only knew, but impacted profoundly. “How is that I’ve never met this person whose life was changed?” Consoling the folks who are there to console you, knowing it’s ok, you’re cried out anyway. For now. Until that one person shows up and starts up the water works again. Worrying that well-meaning folks are tiring at the wake, that we’re taking too long to chat, to greet, to move through the hundreds of people standing for hours.
Finding the prayers. Sharing The Funeral File for inspiration and ideas from funerals you’ve liked, or planned, before. Organizing the reservations for dinner. Where do we go after the wake? How many people will come? So many out-of-towners. Trying to keep the crowd manageable. Worrying about … everyone. Choosing the casket. Choosing the days, the church, the priests. Tell the nuns, the friends, the neighbors. Write the obit, find the photo for it. Choose an outfit for the burial. Hating that chore, but realizing how important it is.
Tears, anger, relief, various and different kinds of grief, crying, exasperation, inspiration. Miracles. Cardinals. Meals shared, dropped off, stories of support, love, tenderness, notes, flowers, letters, chocolates. More love. More support. More miracles. More food.
Worrying about robbers and bad guys who prey on houses emptied for funerals and wakes and hoping there is a special place in Hell for them. Worrying about scammers and predators who prey on grieving spouses and families, tricking them into giving donations, gifts, money. Hoping for good weather, knowing that is completely out of your control. Buying the boots, just in case.
Funeral day. Walking the center aisle. Cue the music. The dark suits, the clutched hands and tear stained cheeks, familiar faces in the congregation, the casket, the shroud over top, unfolded with care. The cross placed gently on top, facing the altar. Painstakingly chosen music, readings, readers, eulogies. Blessings, incense. Praying for those giving the eulogies … they nail it. Good job. It all triggers recall of previous funerals, previous tears, Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. The circle getting smaller, tighter, death getting closer. Of course there will be more. Always more funerals. Huddling under the tent at the grave site. Exhaustion.
Finally, the reception, more food. Hell yes, a Bloody Mary. And another. There is laughter, let down, heels kicked off, feet put up on cushioned chairs. It is finished.
And then, a baby toddles by, blissfully unaware of it all. New life. Hope. It will be okay. You will be okay. To everything there is a season.
Rest in peace. We are okay.