Have you ever seen glass shatter? It’s almost like it happens in slow motion.
A Christmas ornament falls, landing with shrill certainty in a million tiny pieces on the hardwood floor.
A car slides towards another, brakes screeching until metal crunches and web-like cracks explode across the windows.
A vase topples over; water spills forth and slivers of glass lurk dangerously among the flowers sprawled across the floor.
Watching someone grieve is a lot like watching glass shatter. It’s almost like it happens in slow motion.
A widow steels herself as she walks through the threshold of the sanctuary. Her hand holds tightly to her daughter’s, and tighter still to the few unsuspecting tissues she grabbed from the box in my hand as she walked by. Her grandchildren walk a few steps behind her; they’ll be watching cartoons the next morning when she cries quietly in the shower down the hall.
His little girl wants to stay until everyone leaves the visitation room. She wants to whisper something to him before we close the casket. She’s not sure about the looks she keeps getting through her aunt’s tears and the tights she’s wearing are kind of itchy. He always told her he loved her before she went to sleep. She missed him last night and she’ll probably miss him just the same when she spends her first night away at college.
I watch as the casket is lowered into the vault. The family drove away a few minutes ago and as they walked past for the last time, the pallbearers placed their boutonnieres on top of the casket. All six white carnations, lined up in a row, with two yellow dandelions for bookends. The grandchildren must’ve sneaked those in when I wasn’t looking. The top of the vault is pressed down with it’s distinct finality. Dirt is shoveled on top and I catch the eye of the nephew sitting in his truck. From a distance, I can’t tell if he’s crying, but I’m glad he’s here. He’s just watching–watching our movements and the process of burial; bearing witness one last time to the life of his uncle.
There are unpredictable moments in life where feelings of loss cut quickly and deeply like a shard of glass. Grief has a way of erupting with sounds of choked back tears giving way to unmuffled sobs. It’s a wincing kind of pain, breaths are hurried and shallow until you remember you’re supposed to breathe deeply; somebody somewhere told you that was supposed to help. But right now it really doesn’t feel like it’s helping thankyouverymuch.
Something is broken. Irreparable. But, like shattered glass, it must be dealt with. The pieces must be gently swept up, and even when the area is surveyed and studied from all angles, there are usually a few small, sharp pieces left to cut into the vulnerable parts of us.
Grief is a scary place, it’s uncomfortable and misunderstood. But it’s one of the most human things about us. Grief exposes us in ways that nothing else can and causes questions and loneliness and uncertainty for periods of time. The grief I see on a day to day basis as a funeral director is an initial kind of grief. The grief can be very raw, very detached, or it can be somewhere in between. It seems that deeper kinds of grief come tucked in between moments of funeral planning, but real heaviness often comes a little later, often long after the funeral. The heaviness of grief cuts to our core, straight down to our gut, yet it’s reach is universal. We all experience it, and it’s true that we all process it differently. Some of us just want to sit in the truck and watch dirt being put on the grave. Others of us want to do the shoveling. Sometimes we need a hand to hold or a book to read or a little bit of time to get into a new rhythm of life.
Our grief is a hard place to be, but it is a necessary place. If you find yourself on the helping end of grief, be there. Be all the way there–it’s one of the most powerful things you can do. Empathy, compassion, duty, whatever it feels like at the time, when it comes from a place of honesty and sincerity, is so very healing. Grief and healing are two sides of the same coin, and I’m privileged to have an eyewitness look at each of them. Grief is different in every situation, for every family, and for every person, and I think it’s important for us to remember that healing is different for each of us too. I pray when you find yourself or someone you love grieving that you’ll know the sacredness of that place, and that you’ll act with the same gentleness needed to pick up broken glass.