The color black is symbolic of funerals, representing everything from the heavy grief that overshadows the bereaved to the most common color-choice for attire. How strange then that the decision on whether to attend a funeral isn’t always as clear as the delineation between black and white. Many people fall into a gray area of not knowing the deceased well, but still wanting to support the grieving. It can feel like an awkward palette from which to draw — blending the darkness of death with the comfort of light.
Last year, I attended several funerals. It felt unnatural to lose the people that I lost. Too young. Too loved. Too unbearable. Too many. At this point, I have decided you don’t move on from grief you carry it with you – this incredulous realization that you will never see someone you love again. The reality folded up reverently and tucked away in the gap created by the loss in your heart. Every now and then, you unfold it, look at it in disbelief, and weep for a love that was once tangible. Then, if you’re lucky, you wipe away the tears and find the smile that acknowledges the best parts of your loved one you’ve kept alive by the illogical, eternal merits of love. You breathe out, fold it back up, and carry on. The losses from last year were close to me. The black I felt was as dark and as empty as a galaxy without stars. I never thought twice about whether I would attend the funerals.
Sometimes, it’s not that clear. We aren’t always close to the deceased. We aren’t sure if it is appropriate. If we are being honest, we aren’t certain we want to go. Generally speaking, they are not a lot of fun. There is nothing to me so private as grief, so I understand the feeling of not wanting to intrude, pry, or feel like a gawking voyeur during moments of another person’s certain despair. I also know what it meant to me when I lost a close relative and friends who did not know the deceased showed up. They weren’t there for the dead, they came for the living. Seeing some of the people who were there for me was so touching that momentarily I didn’t feel grief, I felt love. It was a beautiful gift. I don’t know how much vacillating they did between black and white before deciding to go. I just know in that gray area of uncertainty they chose to come, bringing me a moment of mercy that was as restful as the color white on tired eyes.
I have a friend who drove two hours out of town to attend a funeral for someone, that to them fell into the gray area. They weren’t close to the deceased, but they were close to some of the others who would certainly feel the darkness of that day. They told me that they felt guilty because attending the funeral felt like a checked box. Not something they wanted to do, but something that they did because it felt like the right thing to do. To this I say, you didn’t just check a box, you checked in with people you loved. You showed up for them. You honored the dead. You validated the value of life. You checked your wants at the door. You did an important work of mercy. You were a face of comfort – a glimpse of light which reminded others that darkness too has shades of relief.
It’s not easy to know what to do to comfort others when they have lost a loved one. There is no one way. No right or wrong. No black or white. There are countless shades of gray and each one starts merely by showing up for the bereaved in some capacity. From there, the color of hope, however slight, becomes visible. A ray of sunshine emerging from the rain – it’s not black or white but it’s always welcome.
I wrote this towards the end of last year and I am just now posting it. Since then I have attended several more funerals. I guess its the stage of life I’m in. It kind of makes me miss all those baby showers and kiddie birthday parties. Kind of.
Read last week’s post here.