I don’t recall really going to any funerals until I was quite grown—maybe my senior year of high school. And even then they were few and far between. However, in the past 10 years I feel like they have been a major source of my social interactions.
Got plans this weekend?
Oh, yeah, headed to a funeral.
I even go to extra funerals that are not required. A work friend’s parent who I have never met? I’ll be there. A neighbor several houses down who I only ever waved to going to driving by? Yep. I will show up. And so help me, if possible I will be bearing a casserole. (For all the smack we foodies talk about casseroles, when you need to eat your feelings it comes best in a 9×13 with bubbling cheese under the toasted bread crumbs.)
It’s not that I like funerals. In fact, I find them excruciatingly painful. Every cell of me wants to get up mid-service and go wait outside until it is over. But, I will myself to be in it and to help shoulder the weight of the grief. Grief carried alone is devastating. Grief borne in a community is devastating and redemptive and connective. So, I stay and help in some small way to carry the collective grief in a way I hope others will do for me when my grief is too big to bear.
It’s only the first week of February. I have had three funerals already. I cannot tell you the last time I went to a wedding. In fact, I have never even been invited to a Catholic wedding. But, if you are grieving, I am your girl. It’s not that I am morbid—well, not in an excessive way. Just the right amount of memento mori to keep one’s eyes on heaven, remembering that this world is not our home. We talk about death, heaven, hell, purgatory, and hope a lot in our home. I have some thoughts about the Last Things. These are my thoughts—take ’em or leave ’em. There is zero judgement projected on how you handle the topic of the Last Things.
When I die, please don’t make any assumptions. Don’t say that I am looking down on you from heaven. Don’t say I am in a better place and all my suffering is over. Don’t say that I have gained my wings. Just please, don’t. To assume that is to assume premature sainthood, when in reality I will probably be the one shutting the lights off and closing up shop in purgatory. As Dorothy Day said, “Don’t call me a saint, I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”
Instead pray. Have Masses said for me. Offer Divine Mercy Chaplets. Offer Rosaries. Make Holy Hours for my soul.
Having a reasonable hope of salvation is a beautiful thing. Making assumptions about the state of anyone’s eternal soul which we cannot see is to presume on the mercy of God. Man looks on the outside; God looks at the heart.
Grief without a montage still counts. At my wake please do not play a montage of my life and memories set to melancholic music. If I am looking down from heaven and allowed to meddle in the affairs of earth I will make the projector malfunction.
Do sit around and swap stories about me if you will. Pull out your phones (or better yet actual photos) and talk about my shenanigans. But do it in a personal way—face to face. Touch each other when you laugh. Hug each other when you cry. Say in hushed tones the cringy things I did. Say a little too loudly the embarrassing stories you shared with me. But don’t project them on a screen so that the grief becomes a passive thing we observe and watch like a train-wreck from which you are not allowed to look away. I do not say this to disparage your montage. I have made many myself for others and I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want one to sum up my life.
Leave a stack of books on a table that affected my life (I will leave you a list) and line a table with the memes I thought were hilarious and probably NSFW. That will be my montage.
A Day Off
Were we intimate friends? Work friends? Did I cater your wedding? Did we meet only once? Were you my favorite checker at the grocery store? Whatever our relationship, if you need a day off work to catch up on your episodes or to run errands, please, by all means, use my death as an occasion to get a little time for yourself. We don’t create enough margins in our busy lives. And society isn’t likely to give us any. So, if you need to say, “Someone very important to me passed away” and then spend the day in your pajamas processing your own neuroses, I fully support you. Let that be a part of my legacy: I gave you the space to rest.
Unlocking Your Feelings
I have come to the painful conclusion that sometimes it takes something sober like death to unlock all the angst, frustration, confusion, grief, sadness, and stress we store up in our lives and in our bodies. We hold it together every day. We go to work. We go to school. We put in the time. We pay our bills and hit the gym and run the errands. We try to be good citizens and not annoy our neighbors. Cut the grass, pick up the dog poop, take the car in for regular oil changes.
We walk through trials—unexpected diagnoses, divorce, broken refrigerators. We have strained relationships with parents or siblings or exes or friends. We walk our kids through trials and try to make sense of a new generation’s demons, not entirely sure we have subdued our own. When someone asks how we are we say, “Fine. And you?” while probably both of us are lying.
Our lives are full of noise—streaming services and tiktoks. Traffic reports and NPR. The ding of every text we feel we have to answer and work emails on our phones. Our brains and bodies do not have a minute’s peace. We don’t give ourselves space to identify our feelings, let alone feel them. And many do not have a friend with whom they can be their unfiltered authentic self. So we store it.
You know that you can’t skip feelings right? I mean, you can temporarily push aside grief, sadness, or anger (or even joy and contentment for that matter). But you can’t actually skip over them. Your body and soul will store them up. And a day of reckoning will come—physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.
The day comes….you’re driving to a funeral alone and you cry. Not like a small glistening and romantic tear. But, all the unprocessed emotions you haven’t wanted to deal with come up. It’s the death, it’s the life, it’s all the confusion and all the hopes that have been deferred that have been making your heart sick. They all come welling up and burst through your tear ducts like a flood. And your chest hurts and your throat hurts and you might have to pull over.
When I die, if you need to cry, cry. The tears do not have to be for me. I promise not to be offended if you are actually crying about your childhood family puppy and not about me. In fact, I would be honored.
Maybe the somberness of the funeral can simply be the key that unlocks those things in your beautiful soul and sets them free. Use that moment to think about the rejection you wish wasn’t a part of your story, how your heart was hurt over a broken promise, or your unrequited love. No matter what it is or how far back your heart needs to reach, go for it. Have your moment. Maybe the gift of my death can be part of the gift of getting your life back.
Taking time to observe a death can unlock stored up grief. Your body and soul will thank you for letting them see the light of grace. Acknowledge. Feel. And let them go.
But, please hydrate.