by Neal Lemery
Life has a way of reminding us to take care of ourselves and to do what is important in our lives.
July seems to be a month of special events and celebrations. The reverberations of June graduations, and a catching up on birthdays, weddings and funerals has filled my calendar. Covid had slowed down and often stopped those familiar rituals and life events that really are essential to our community life and our emotional wellbeing. Now, we have social calendars again and I find myself busy with those special events, events I used to take for granted, or thought that they were old-fashioned, and could be forgotten.
This week, I went to a funeral of a good friend and colleague from work. Her funeral was delayed for a year, as she wanted people to gather to celebrate her life, and not to be overcome by mourning. Then, the pandemic delayed that event for another two years.
Part of me was thinking that having a funeral now was unnecessary. Enough time had gone by that we didn’t really need a funeral or even a gathering. We were “past all that” and had moved on. If my thinking was likened to a baseball game, I’d be batting a complete strikeout.
It was a serious and meaningful event, a military funeral at a national cemetery, complete with an honor guard, the firing of rifles, and the playing of “Taps”. The folding and presentation of the national flag to her daughter “on behalf of the President” and in recognition of her military service might seem a little dramatic, almost a cliche. But tears rolled down my cheeks. We each had one of her favorite roses, and we shared stories of her life and her many contributions and devotion to her family, friends, and community.
Grief poured out of me and tears fell, and I joined everyone else in the laughter and crying over wonderful stories, rich memories of a life well lived. No, it wasn’t “too late” to have a funeral, it wasn’t too late to gather to remember a good person and good times. We all cried, and we all healed. We continued our story telling over a late breakfast, her favorite meal, at one of her favorite restaurants. Good memories came to life and when I left, I knew that I’d been able to celebrate her life and to grieve her death, and do that essential work of the soul along with many friends and her family.
A number of years ago, I was asked to be part of a memorial for a friend who had passed nearly ten years earlier. Family and friends had struggled with this friend’s death, and many issues and emotions had become stuck, with no ceremony or gathering to release the complex array of feelings.
It has been said that grief is what happens when there’s no place for the love to go. I understand that wisdom a lot more these days, as I am learning that I need to take the time for self-care, for community care, and to fully and wholeheartedly allow myself to mourn, to grieve, and to release some of the challenging feelings and emotions that come when a loved one dies. In any relationship, there are thoughts unsaid, feelings unexpressed when someone dies, and what is left does need to go somewhere, needs to be said.
Often, I’m not sure what that is, what words there are to describe what lies deep in my heart. Time helps me understand what is buried deep inside, so that what needs to eventually come out and be spoken and released can find its way through the complicated jumble of emotions that are tied into the knots of grief and loss. Anger is certainly involved. There are other things, too, needing to be expressed by words we find difficult to find, let alone emerge from our throats in the midst of tears.
I do know that when I cry, that when I can allow myself to find release, and to say what is on my heart, then peace is close by. I become unstuck, able to find some liberation and comfort in the work of grieving well. Some would call that detoxifying yourself, a cleansing.
After that long delayed memorial service many years ago, a number of people were able to heal, able to move on and find some understanding, some reconciliation. I found I had some unresolved grief inside of me, too, and it was past time to let that go. The memory of the departed one became more inspiring, more comforting, and people became more accepting of her work in the community as a healer, a reconciler, and a person who could inspire fundamental change in people’s lives. There were many good stories told at that memorial, stories that had been locked up in grieving hearts, love that had no place to go for a while. There was a lot less self-judgment and self-blaming. Grieving well does that for each of us, and for the community.
Now, when I feel a need to go to a funeral, or to write some kind words of comfort to those experiencing loss and grief, I listen to that voice inside of me, knowing that taking that kind of affirmative action and work not only helps others and helps the community, but it helps me be a more caring and decent person, less burdened with love that has no place to go.