Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Scenes from a Funeral

chapel ceiling
The chapel is familiar. I sit alone in a too-small pew and try to remember who we buried last. There have been so many.

Behind me someone gossips about the sale price of a neighbor's house, setting off excited chatter about the real estate market. Elsewhere a cluster of strangers commiserate about how the weather has thrown off their landscaping schedule. 

This death is once removed: the father of a friend. My relief is distasteful to me. Still I clutch a tissue, prepared for the echoes of past grief--or premonitions of future sorrow--to rise up and claim me. 

The injustice of time gnaws at me. They say it marches on. The vocabulary is wrong. There must be a word that combines colossal and indifferent and relentless instead. When engulfed in sorrow I long for a button with which to pause everything so I can, for just one moment, bypass the mundane and instead contemplate the profound. Washing laundry, mowing the lawn, taking a shit all seem obscene in the face of loss. The inescapable obligation of little tasks unfairly diminishes personal grief. There should be an isolation chamber into which the bereaved can retreat and ponder mortality and love and friendship and the meaning of life and death without penalty. Instead we are forced to carry on.

The rabbi stands and gently begins the ceremony. The gardeners and homeowners behind me shuffle to sit with their partners. Speeches are made. Songs rise gloriously to the rafters. My tears ebb and flow in tides of sympathy. I time my nose-blowing for the in-between moments, preferring to break the peace rather than interrupt the farewells. I inadvertantly make a sound like a trumpet and bring a moment of levity. The laughter forgives me any embarrassment.

The final prayer is spoken. The sound of voices intoning the kaddish in unison resonates through my center. There is no comfort for me in the words; they are in Hebrew. I am both together with and apart from my fellow mourners. 

The widow is conscripted into the task of hostess: greeting each well-wisher, thanking the rabbi, figuring out what to do with the flowers. I make a note to arrange my funeral now to spare my loved ones. Then I change my mind. Perhaps busyness interrupts the grief, making it more bearable. The practicalities seen brutal, though. Walk-throughs, selecting music, paying for services are salt in the wound. She tells me tearfully "I didn't want to do this" and I understand she is referring to saying goodbye, but I wonder if she also means the administrivia of funeral arrangements. I shake her hand helpessly and step away.

I find my friend and we hug and wipe our tears and comment on the weather. Words are froth, conveying nothing. I stand close, knowing presence counts, wondering if I am being presumptuous. I have stood in the void into which she has been thrust. I can do nothing but be present. Time will march on, indifferent and colossal and relentless. This scene will play out again. We will become practiced in supportive hugs and small words. Laundry will be washed and lawns mowed. I can do nothing. I can be present. Time will march on.


  1. March it does, quickly,quietly and without so much as an apology to those left.
    My mother in law planned her funeral.
    It was a gift to the family. There was no doubt what she wanted and we could hold each other knowing she would have loved the way it turned out. No regrets on that one.

  2. This is lovely. I have made my "funeral" (more cremation and party) plans known, because I actually think required tasks when you are mired in grief is just too too.

    I'm sorry for everyone's loss.

  3. Beautiful and thankfully a rare occurance. I sent it to my mother