Tomorrow we are attending a memorial service for my partner’s cousin. She died last fall and finally we are getting around to grief. As innovative and positive as the “new funerals” are I really miss the old way of doing things for a variety of reasons.
Putting off grief – When someone dies there is a great deal of emotion and the old visitation and funeral at the funeral home thing was wonderful comfort. It was a way to express that grief with people who care. Yes, it’s nice to celebrate life and be all happy and positive but there is much to be said for allowing grief to happen/ Weeks and months after the death celebration seems to disallow people their grieving.
The community misses out on the process – When families put off the celebration it holds a community at bay. Like it or not we live in community and there are people who’s lives are touched by ours that families may not even know. The baker, the hairdresser, the neighbour, the folks from church or the ones that used to take art lessons with the person are excluded. While we like to hold our privacy I think it’s sad that these folks on the outside of the family will never have a chance to say a proper goodbye.
I also miss bodies. I want to become an ash heap as much as everyone else in my generation but I think we deny those who love us the most precious hours of adjustment when we pack up and head to the crematorium before anyone can see the remains. This part is particularly difficult for the older generation. I probably hate the discussion about how Auntie So and So looks in the box more than most but I recognize the importance of seeing and believing it to be true. I remember as a child visiting a closed casket with a picture on top and I could not believe the box held that person I loved. I kept looking for him every time I went to our neighbour’s home because it was hard to fathom. While that is the understanding of child I believe the same feeling exists for adults, even though they may not want to admit it because reason prevails.
When a death is particularly tragic this opportunity for community visitation may be even more important. When my son died at 16, as hard as it was for me, I knew there were a few hundred teenagers who needed to be part of the process. They needed to see him, they needed to cry with us, and they needed to do it then not a few weeks later. A piano in the room, the occasional guitar and teenagers sitting around a funeral home singing together the songs they knew he loved was healing for all of us.
I notice when there is a death of royalty or a political leader there is never a question about prompt and public funeral service. There is a recognition in these instances of the need for this sort of mourning. The need is no less just because the person is not a public figure.
I will go tomorrow and be happy to celebrate the life of this wonderful woman who’s life touched us so deeply but I will be sad that her aunt who could have been there last fall, is now too ill to attend and that the woman’s sister who lives in BC can’t find it in her heart to travel one more time for the celebration which she might have been able to attend in the fall. I might cry but it won’t have the same permission or cleansing as it would have months ago because we are “getting over it now”. Or is that now, it will be harder to get over because we are denied that intensity of grief which would have helped us heal more easily, more completely.