Life, Grief and the Process
I hope this writing does not come across as being self-centered, but eulogies are for expressing the thoughts about the deceased, especially if the deceased is unknown to the reader. Sometimes, just putting something down in writing is a form of healing itself. Unfortunately, the person I have “lost” is one of the two people I had left in my life who I would normally be verbally expressing these thoughts to. The fact that it was sudden and not due to old age or some medical condition that might make death a blessing, or time to prepare, makes it even more difficult.
Once again, here I am going through the grieving process or should I say continuing the grieving process but adding another chapter. Disbelief, crying, anger, blame, you run the gamut of all emotions. This is not a new process or experience as it is for most people of a certain age. I have already lost my parents who were the closest in my life. With each passing, you work down the list and get even closer to those remaining with whom you can share your innermost thoughts. Not everyone has multiple people to share this bond or who would feel comfortable to fill this role. Not everyone is extroverted enough or comfortable enough to get close to a large number of people. But with each passing, you lose a part of yourself and you never truly “heal”. Unfortunately, in this case, experience is not a good teacher.
Based on experience, if you talk to a priest, minister or religious person, naturally the solution is going to be prayer and to live a good life in the hopes of being reunited in the hereafter. Talk to a doctor or medical person and the answer might be a pill or analysis, grief counseling, which at least in my mind is not really an answer and is nothing more than masking the issue or paying someone to listen to what I am expressing here. A secular person might say there is no hereafter, or even if there is, life here on earth is for the living and what it is all about, forget about the past or future. Live for today, enjoy yourself, or like the old beer commercial, you only go around once in life, so go for the gusto.
Writing this before the funeral ritual while the wound is still fresh allows for raw human emotion.
If you have any basis in religion, the funeral process itself is for the living, the person you’ve loved was “gone” the minute you received the word. All that is left is for us pray and handle the physical remains. You hope that all you have been taught and believe is you will be reunited when your time comes. The funeral director requests that you come up with no more than twenty pictures to put in a CD display so at the time you are hurting the most, you have to quickly go through photos and condense someone’s life to twenty pictures. This is a cold hard process. Someone’s whole life, the ambitions, dreams, good times the people who may have played a major part at various stages in a person’s life, but no, sorry... you did not make the cut! Twenty lousy pictures for a whole life! This is even assuming that through your life any pictures were taken. How many pictures if taken, occurred at events you did not run or have never seen? How many pictures of loved ones sit in boxes, never seen or identified, to be discarded as “clutter” when the owner dies? How many people have work friends that you worked decades with and never had any pictures taken? You realize that there are big gaps and even decades where there is no physical record. Who wants to or has the time to look at old photos? Unfortunately after death, photos and memories might be all that is left.
As a business, it can’t help but be a cold process and people do need to be compensated, but like the photos, next you must write an obituary, and once again it must be concise and limited, because money is involved; too long or multiple days and it will cost extra. Hundreds of dollars for several lines of print and yet newspapers still can’t make a go of it. Next after the funeral director gets their cut for their services and chapel, there are “extra” choices to be made for prayer , thank you cards, death certificates etc. , charges for even the gloves used by pallbearers, fees for the church and organist. A piece of the action for the casket manufacturers and florists. The banquet hall/ restaurant providing the funeral luncheon in addition to charging per plate for the same food they sell in their restaurant at the same price decides that another 18.5% “gratuity” seems “fair” , after all who wants to negotiate at a time like this? Like if the minimum wage waitresses being ushered in to cater to multiple funeral parties at the same time will see any of this money. The final indignity is that as in life, the great state, county, city government feeding monopoly takes another 10% sales tax. Even for services relating to death there is no holiday, and the greedy politician “needs” money to dispense! After all we serve the government instead of the other way around.
Finally the funeral director hands you a grieving pamphlet; it has the right words, because it is based on thousands of years of human experience. It just confirms the obvious that the symptoms and thoughts you are experiencing are “normal”. Death is the great equalizer, regardless of your religion, race, social status, we all still experience most of the same human traits and emotions. So just the fact that you are “normal” or that others share the same experiences is suppose to bring some if not minimal comfort. Family and friends will express sorrow and support and maybe an anecdote about the deceased. All well meaning and with the best of intentions, but for most of us after the final viewing and burial, it is natural for people to drift back to their own lives and issues.
As a gardener, symbolically I see life as a flower, you plant a seed, hope for the best, you nurture, worry, fret, hover, attempt to maintain; but there are so many things outside your control that will impact the outcome. Sometimes the best intent, effort and work and attention or mistake and the plant still does not live to flower... And for those that do make it to that level, by the time it is in its full glory in color and height, internally the plant has already started its death spiral. So too is life, If you are lucky enough to escape life’s troubles to adulthood and are lucky or work hard enough to be in a position to enjoy life, just like the flower just when you are at your happiest, your own personal spiral has already begun, medical issues, unemployment, government interference, loss of those you love and care about. The cycle of life!
Where do you go from here? Life goes on for the living! How to fill the void? After handling the funeral and all the necessary bureaucratic government and financial dealings, some people will dispose as quickly as possible of all possessions and mementos and never mention the deceased, as if their life never existed... Others can’t bear to get rid of anything, as if setting up shrines or keep mentioning the deceased as if the person has never left or might be coming back. What is wrong with keeping peoples memories alive? But in what form? Those with children or grandchildren can find comfort and solace by trying to pass memories and customs to another generation on the off chance that there is any interest. Busy yourself to the point to avoid thinking about it? As in life, everyone must make their own choices and find out what will work for them. Some never do! Things that once seemed important, especially those things that you shared with the deceased, make for even crueler decisions. If you stop doing or enjoying things, you feel guilt or sadness; on the other hand do you force yourself to continue even though the feelings aren’t there or you are going through the motions or it causes pain? Continue and hope that as time goes on it will return? My believe is that if you hastily stop you will never return and will never know!
As for me, after my first loss, my philosophy became that I try taking one day at a time; I constantly mentally talk and think of the memories of those gone, all the time, even to the extent of at times creating my own mental hell. I will try to carry on and try to find some enjoyment, as difficult as it may be, knowing that those I loved and who loved me would not want it otherwise. They would understand that my grief is a testament to love and what they meant to me. But at the same time, they would be the first people to be upset with me and want me to find some form of happiness. My only advice to people in similar circumstances, is to not take life for granted. Death can occur in a instant; plan and talk to those who might outlive you. Pick out those twenty pictures! Make your wishes known for funeral plans and possessions and express your thoughts so you might make it easier and alleviate the guilt and anguish your survivors would go through. In preference this should be in writing, as through the years we have all had many vague discussions, not necessarily committed to memory, and emotional issues aren’t covered well by wills or trusts.
Have a happy life!