Grief and Gaiety

I went to my first funeral, cremation and wake today. It was one of the most confusing experiences of my life. 

A close family friend passed away last week. She had been battling cancer for over 20 years and at the age of 60 has passed on.

You know those people in your life, the ones that have always been there. You don’t talk to them much or see them often, but they’ve known you since you were born. She was one of them.

I have vague memories of her getting me juice in the kitchen as I waited patiently, and her voice telling us to be careful as we went down into the basement to play with the huge LEGO blocks. She had a kind smile and (perhaps because of her illness) a quiet, unintrusive demeanour.

All things considered she had a full life. She saw all her children get married and had been blessed with grandkids from all of them. Her family is well placed and settled.

As I walked into the funeral home, I didn’t feel overwhelming grief. Is that wrong? I didn’t shed a tear. Watching her children weep, I felt tears start to well up but as I looked over to the slideshow of photographs, I immediately felt a sense of calm. Though she had suffered with cancer for so many years, she had a doting husband, had raised wonderful kids and got to see all of them experience parenthood. So few can say the same.

It is sad when someone passes away, and so suddenly at that. Problem was, the fact that the tears weren’t coming naturally had put me in an awkward position. I felt like I was under the microscope and being judged for not being visibly upset. I hate crocodile tears. Today was not going to be the day that I started fake crying.

As we left the crematorium and made our way past the line of mourning family members, all I had for them was a sympathetic smile and a heartfelt hug. There were no words or tears. I could not possibly feel their pain. Just the thought of loosing a parent is enough to give me a panic attack. I would trade myself up in a heartbeat. Yet here I was, calm and collected when people who were practically family were going through the same thing…

The late afternoon meal at their house was a completely different affair. The summer dresses and board shorts had come out. Kids (so many babies) running around and adults laughing and eating. Umm… So now it’s okay to be okay??? One or two folks remained somber, but the rest had moved on to a more jovial (albeit respectful) mood.

At this point I was exhausted and hungry so I tried to put my bewilderment aside and just went with it. Talking to my parents’ friends and just being a positive, smiling face was the only thing that felt right and real. We ended up huddling and talking about the future and joking about the possibilities. Looking back I realize that though the day was a rollercoaster of uncertainty and unease for me, the family had gone through an important phase of grief and acceptance in the space of 6 hours.

That isn’t to say that they’re completely fine but they will be. If my presence helped in any small way, then all the confusion and unease I felt is more than worth it.




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