I spent last weekend watching other people grieve. Not because I’m some kind of creep – who knows, maybe I am – but because I attended the funeral of a man I’d never met. Now, again, this wasn’t just for the hell of it. Someone very close to me lost his brother and so I went along to support him. Otherwise, I go to great lengths to avoid funerals, but this one I felt compelled to attend for the sake of the family.
To say that I had grieved would be a lie. I definitely got a case of the sads on their behalf but this was not my day to grieve. I stayed mostly in the background, which was where I belonged, and I observed as the various people made their way through the days of the viewing and funeral.
And it made me think. It made me think about the stages of grief and how once the shock passes, one of the saddest things in my experience is actually when that moment arrives and you realize you haven’t thought of that person vividly for hours, maybe even days. That is part of the healing, but is also a part of the truly letting go. Or when you need to look at a photo to bring their face back fully into focus because time has erased the visual. I think our mind does this to protect us, but it is still a very strange realization that someone we’ve cherished so dearly in life is fading in death.
I have a lot of experience with death. I haven’t died personally, of course, but I have lost hundreds of people over the course of my years. Yes, hundreds. Surprisingly, I can only recall having attended five funerals, including the one last weekend, but that is not by accident. I believe that the spirit/soul/essence – whatever you want to call it – leaves the body with the last breath so I prefer to grieve in private. I do, however, also understand the need for closure and for it to be shared and witnessed so that everyone can move forward together; I respect other people’s grief and the way they need to express it.
And so I went and supported others and as I watched I saw images of people I’d lost flash past in my mind. A little boy I’d known in maybe the 1st grade, for example. When I think of him, I see his face superimposed in the sky above the church I attended growing up. Another boy I’d known in perhaps the 2nd grade, I see forever sitting in a wheel chair with his mother squatting in front of him, holding his hands.
My maternal grandmother, I see standing in line with me at the small grocery store near where she lived. She wore a well-pressed dress and cat-eye framed glasses. Her skin was soft and she always seemed to be thinking, but happy. I can still sense her warmth and support standing behind me, one hand on my shoulder. A woman in front of us, perhaps in her 60s, was taking her time to count out her money and was holding everyone up. My grandmother, in her late 70s at the time, leaned down and whispered “Old people!” into my ear then shook her head, rolled her eyes and winked.
Forty years later, I can still remember the day she died, what I wore to her funeral, riding in a limousine to the cemetery and feeling special because I was convinced that she’d waited for my birthday to pass before leaving my life. I lost her four days after my 11th birthday and I miss her still but I somehow know she is always with me.
Which makes me think about the word “loss” and how we use it at the time of death. I used to think it was just a polite way of avoiding stating the fact that someone had died. He lost his brother does somehow sound more gentle than His brother died I suppose. But I now think that word is accurate. Yes, my grandmother died all those years back, but it really is more like I simply lost her because I know she is still in my life, I just can’t find her anymore. But she’s there, that I know.
And so I come back to thinking of the people who lost their loved one and buried him last weekend and I sincerely hope that even if they can’t find him where he used to be that they’ll feel his presence and know he is still around somewhere out in the universe sending them good vibes.
In honor of this man and his brother, I share these lyrics from Pink Floyd — special to them — in hopes that these two men will never lose their love for one another.
Heavy hung the canopy of blue
Shade my eyes and I can see you
White is the light that shines…//…
Green is the colour…
Green is the color of nature, of balance, of calm and rebirth.
May all the people we’ve lost Rest In Peace. And may all of us who still have life remember to tell the people we cherish that we love them.