My friend passed away last year. Nobody saw it coming. He was just hitting the midpoint of his life. It was an unfinished story with loose ends that will never be tied. So much potential was just gone. I found myself struggling with the idea of attending his funeral. I knew that I should go, I knew that I needed to go, but it’s like my mind and body wanted to go in opposite directions. While my mind was telling me to go, my body wanted to physically get as far away from it as possible.
She died the day after Christmas. It’s been over twenty years and I still have a hard time around the holidays. At my mom’s funeral, my dad insisted that we touch her body, lifeless in the casket. I was horrified. I wanted to shout at him and get the hell out of that room. But when I saw the look in his eyes, I felt compelled to do as he asked. I walked up to the casket, reached in and squoze her arm. It took everything I had to maintain my composure although I felt wretched. I was moving in slow-motion as I pulled my hand out and put it back by my side. Then I turned away from her in that casket. I couldn’t stomach looking back. I’ll never forget how she looked that day and how her cold skin felt under my warm fingers.
I couldn’t find solace in all of the pomp and circumstance. We were all dressed in our Sunday best as if to celebrate, but it was certainly the opposite. I felt like someone was repeatedly punching me in the heart. My stupid tear ducts would not shut off. Despite my whole family being there, I couldn’t talk to anyone. I wanted it to be over. No, actually, I wanted my life to go back to normal, with my mom.
So now, when my friend passed away, a fresh wound opened that pulled the pre-existing wounds back open. I thought about my mom’s funeral and how I hated looking at her in that box, and feeling her cold, hard skin. That’s really what was holding me back from going to my friend’s funeral. Then I thought about his wife who is also my friend. I thought about my other friends who would be grieving and looking for people to lean on. So I had to go, I had to bring myself to face death again, head-on.
This friend was a movie fanatic. When we walked into the funeral venue, a red and white striped popcorn machine was popping away. An adjoining room had piles and piles of picture albums on display and people were chatting about their memories with him. In the main room a large screen had been set up, playing slides of his life accompanied by his favorite songs. The people who spoke had very moving stories about intimate shared moments. And we ended by all joining in a tissue-soaked karaoke song, which was another of his favorite things to do, minus the tissues.
I realize now, had I not experienced my mom’s funeral I don’t think I could have processed her death fully. I would have felt more alone than I already did because I would not have seen how many others were grieving with us. The outreach of care and support, even though I felt like my soul had been scooped out, was invaluable.
And now with the Coronavirus in full swing, I had no idea that I was actually incredibly lucky to have those experiences. When this virus started sweeping across the continents, gatherings were cut down to 100 people, then to 50, then to 10. With stay-at-home orders and guidelines, people losing loved ones looks incredibly different today. They have few, very limited options: host a virtual funeral online, or pick up an urn of a cremated loved one who has been left outside a locked funeral home door, or postpone the funeral until gatherings are safe.
I cannot pretend to know how hard it would have been not to be able to hug my friend who had just lost her husband. Or to be able to physically be near my close friends who were sharing in the grief and disbelief.
I cannot imagine having to visit the burial site alone, after the fact, to try to make sense of things and to pay my respects.
I certainly cannot imagine having to postpone services for months just so that I could have a proper service for my mom, or to be able to offer comfort to my dad, sisters, and brother in person.
Losing someone feels so unfair but there is great solace to be had in honoring them. My thoughts are with everyone who has lost and will lose loved ones, especially during this time.The care, comfort, and compassion of others is so important.
Wendy Jones is a writer, artist, and food blogger residing in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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