I’m sitting in the same classroom for the 4th hour in a row. On one side of me, there are two caskets (empty, I promise), on the other, there are twenty classmates, all of various ages and backgrounds. The instructors ramble a bit, confusing words like ‘generic’ with ‘genetic,’ ‘presents’ with ‘presence,’ and ‘elections’ with ‘electrons.’ Nobody else seems to notice. Oh well.
Somewhere between the chemistry lesson and the three-thousandth question about whether or not we have to know ALL the bones in the body, words begin to pop out at me. The words are simple, prepositions actually: by, with, for…
We have moved on to the ‘Funeral Services’ portion of the school day and are watching a PBS Frontline documentary called The Undertaking. (<– VERY highly recommended).
….By the living
….For the living
….With the living
It strikes me as it has done before– funerals in the modern sense mean different things to different people, but Thomas Lynch‘s words start to work in my finite brain, “we deal with death by dealing with the dead…”
Our death traditions are just that- traditions- just like our marriage traditions, birth traditions, and holiday traditions. They serve a purpose, but we have to remember they are not immune to change. The processes of planning, conducting, and attending funerals helps usher us through the beginnings of the grief journey. They give us something to grasp, rules to follow, and roles to play as our little worlds change beyond our comprehension.
We all view and deal with death a little differently, but, in the end, we all must face it.
It never fails that at any funeral I attend, there is a solitary moment in which time seems to stand still. It often happens at the graveside as the pallbearers carry the casket to the grave. Watches tick, birds chirp, cars go by, but the hallowed plot of land on which we place the casket is eerily quiet. We’ve come as far as we can. Family and friends have eulogized, prayed, sung, cried, rejoiced, remembered and now we stand in reverent awe. The casket is lowered and we reach the end. The body stops moving. We stop carting everything around. We arrange the flowers for the last time. We say a final prayer, maybe sing a final song. Then we leave and the reality of the loss accompanies us as we walk away from the grave.
We continue to lean on the living; hearing words of sympathy, accepting tender embraces, and eating fried chicken to our heart’s content. In these moments, we are vulnerable in our humanity. In moments to come, as we look back and remember things about the ones we’ve had to let go, we seem to be more vulnerable in our spirituality. Through tears and laughter we keep moving until death interrupts again; until our little worlds stand still.