Funeral For A Friend
Over the summer I blogged about a woman from my weekly meetup group who had been diagnosed with cancer. Cheryl was a client, and had become a friend. The other night I attended her wake. I went with another friend of mine, both of us felt strongly that we wanted to be there, and we were thankful to go together rather than go alone.
Having lost both of my parents before I was 22 years old, I have my own opinions about death, funerals, and saying goodbye. Many traditonal ways of “honoring” the dead and of saying goodbye I simply don’t resonate with, but I do accept them, and I accept others beliefs and ways of grieving too. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to be when someone close to you has died. One thing I am certain of however, is that we all deal with death differently. Part of my dealing with and accepting Cheryl’s death and the emotions I feel, is writing about it.
I had made arrangements to meet my friend in the parking lot of the funeral home so that we could go in together. I felt a slight knot in my stomach, she did too as we walked into the packed viewing room. We both took a deep breath and walked through the doors. Seeing all the people felt slightly overwhelming. I sensed such an abundance of love that before I even saw the open casket I felt tears welling in my eyes; not out of sadness but out of the love I felt in this funeral home. It was beautiful, and seemed to flood through me. My friend poked me, “Patty don’t start crying because I’ll lose it!”
Like automatic pilot I wiped away the tears and tried as best I could to compose myself. A funny thought occured to me in that moment, “Wow, we really do try so hard to be tough! Even at funerals we feel this need to hold it together, and tears have become slightly taboo.” I became aware right away of my own awkwardness at the fact that I was crying; I felt the tiny inward pressure of not wanting to upset others around me, and recognized my own belief that crying at a funeral would not be helpful, rather it would make others feel more grief.
We got on the end of a huge procession line of people and as we got closer to the front and greeting Cheryl’s husband, thoughts swirled in my mind, “ What the hell are you going to say? Is there really anything that can make it better?” As we inched our way forward these silly thoughts went through my mind. How must he feel in this moment losing someone he loved? I also felt a strange relief of being thankful I wasn’t in his shoes. How the hell could I be feeling thankful at a moment like this. It’s easy to judge. How would I find the right words??
This has often been the most difficult part of attending a wake. For me, it wasn’t viewing the dead; since my parents’ deaths I’ve made peace with death and my own grieving in so many ways. For me the difficult part of attending the wake has been “What the hell do I say to the living?” How often do we feel that we must come up with some smart and comforting line to say? How often do we judge ourselves for what we do say or how we act. I’m coming to my own peace with such thoughts, and it feels good to simply say that I have had them.
When my friend and I finally reached our turn to speak with Cheryl’s husband we wanted him to know who Cheryl was to us and how much we enjoyed our meet ups with her. It felt good to share some of our moments with Cheryl with him. He smiled. Then I blurted out, “ This just sucks!” “Yes,” he agreed that about summed it up. It plain sucks that Cheryl is no longer here. We hugged him tightly and walked over to see her.
Some may say it is comforting to view a body and say goodbye at a wake. I won’t take this comfort away from anyone who finds it or needs it in this way. For me however, viewing the dead at a wake brings me little comfort; talking with those who are still living does, this is just how I feel.
My girlfriend and I kneeled at Cheryl’s casket. There was a picture of Cheryl’s cat with her, and I noticed how pretty her nails looked. I felt sad, and a pit in my stomach seeing the picture of that cat, and seeing Cheryl’s lifeless body next to it. It was not at all how I remembered my friend being alive, and in that moment I felt a certain emptiness. Both my friend and I needed to take a deep breath as we kneeled there.
On our way leaving the funeral home, we saw Cheryl’s best friend and some other girlfriends in a back room. We all hugged, and started to share our special moments that we had with Cheryl with each other. We shared Cheryl’s quirkiness, and laughed about some of the saucy and spicy things only Cheryl would say. It felt good to talk about the vibrant person we knew Cheryl to be, and it felt good to laugh about it with each other. It felt good to share our sadness and frustration at the fact that she was now gone. In those five minutes in that back room I felt comfort and a release, and I could tell the other girls did too.
We all agreed that we would have a girl’s karaoke night in the near future,
( Cheryl loved karaoke) to celebrate Cheryl and to celebrate life in general. I like the idea of celebrating her in this way, so did the other girls. We said that Cheryl would join us in spirit, and joked that the electicity would get knocked down if we sang too crappy. It felt good to laugh at that.
I briefly questioned posting this blog, and I slightly feel my own judgment. As quickly as the fear came up I am letting it go. I wrote these words for me, it’s my way of releasing what the death of a friend brings up, and perhaps in the back of my mind I wrote them for you too. Maybe Funeral For A Friend is universal, it could be about any friend, but then again this blog is not about any friend, it is about my friend. It is about death, and it is about celebrating life.
Cheers to Cheryl, cheers to all friends, and cheers to life. xo