“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”
It’s been a while since I’ve paid my respects. The kind that includes attending the wake, the funeral, and the luncheon. The kind where you make your way through the established motions of saying goodbye, while simultaneously praying you don’t say the wrong thing (I do anyway). The kind of respects that you pay to people who really matter in your life.
When I was a kid, I thought the worst possible way that I could punish someone was to prohibit them from attending my wake or funeral. It seemed sacrilegious to not pay final respects. I’d rehearse conversations in my head with the friend with whom I was quarreling and envision myself laying it down – “You are not invited to my funeral!” Yes, I thought, that would teach them to mess with me. Really Karen? I now laugh at the thought of it. Karen’s dead self, making her own funeral arrangements, writing in fancy calligraphy, “you are cordially invited” or in modern day uploading all of my contacts to E-vite. To the meanies, I’d write, “Dear mean person, ex-friend, you are prohibited from attending the wake, funeral, and Christian burial of Karen Craven. You were not nice to her when she was alive and don’t try to redeem yourself in her death.” And for those who missed the un-invitation, I might have paid someone to walk with a sandwich board at the entry of the funeral parlor, “NO HYPOCRITES INVITED“.
Paying our respects was so ingrained in our childhood that it became part of our play time. One day my mother happened upon my sister and brother, or maybe it was both my brothers, now I can’t recall, nevertheless, they were under four years old and one was dressed up as my mom and the other my dad, sporting one of his fine hats that were kept safe in the front closet. It’s still a mystery how they got that hat which sat upon the top shelf of the front closet, but they did. It was their attire which caught my mother’s attention, who asked, “Where are the two of you going all dressed up?” They replied, “We are going on a date.” She inquired, “Where are you off to then?” And they said, “To a wake, of course.”
My siblings at that age had no idea what a wake was. They did know that my parents wore nice clothes and so it must have been a good thing. That was our childhood: My parents were always going to meetings, going to wakes, going to a wedding, going to honor and to advocate. We learned a lot through their actions, especially in the area of treating people with honor and respect. In defense of my ten-year-old self, as absurd as it sounds, my uninviting someone from paying respects to me in the event of my death sounds perfectly reasonable.
All of this is top of mind because my friend’s mother passed away last week. She was three years older than my mother. She referred to donuts as sweet rolls, like my own mother. She loved her children and grandchildren, like my mother. And she was loved by all, like my mother.
Being present for the motions involved with saying goodbye means being vulnerable. I sat, stood, knelt, sang, and cried at Elizabeth Seton Church in Naperville yesterday. I listened to Ryan share all her lovely memories of her grandmother. I heard the priest in his homily talk about those peak moments in our lives when we feel we are connected to something greater than us and a spirit is present. I felt that yesterday. As the sun poured through the ceiling’s windows and the priest prayed over the casket, in all of that negative space there was something very positive. And I knew that Mary’s mom was going to a good place. And like the priest said, every time we remember her, we bring joy to ourselves and lessen the pain of our loss. Later at the luncheon, we did just that and again later that evening.
I miss walking into a church and feeling God’s presence. I wonder is it me? That does not matter, God was most certainly there yesterday to welcome all of us. That warm welcome stuck with me the rest of the day. Later in the afternoon when I walked the dogs during that magical time of day – dusk – I thought of that serenity found in the church. I looked at the horizon, toward the setting sun, and the spaces between the barren tree branches. I recalled learning how to draw in high school by focusing on the negative space between branches. I found nothing negative in that space yesterday. The tree’s branches, punctured the atmosphere, behind them an infinite canyon of positive space, connecting all of us.
I started this post yesterday morning and never completed it because my day was filled with the motions associated with paying respects. Last night, I considered hurrying up and finishing this post because I didn’t want to fail in my commitment to write for 120 days straight. I reblogged one-day last month, so that means I’m up to 121, and yesterday’s miss means this goal will be accomplished over 122 days. Who’s counting other than me? I’m glad that I slept on this. Waking up to the sun-drenched dawn, the new day helped me appreciate the steps Catholics take in burying the dead. Each step is one moment closer to accepting the loss of a beloved, each step helps us find the joy in our grief, each step helps us find the positive in the negative space.