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.
When I was little, I loved to watch Popeye the Sailor Man. There was something so good about the one-eyed spinach-eating sailor. He was gruff and marbled his raspy words. His body was disproportionate with massive forearms, and legs that bowed out in curvy clumps. He had a tattoo on his arm, a pipe in his twisted mouth, and Olive Oyl, his waif of a love interest, on his arm.
Wearing a white Navy outfit, he embodied the everyday hero. Maybe that was the draw to him. He wasn’t polished and refined like a prince. He wasn’t movie-star handsome. He didn’t speak eloquently. He ate food from a can. He was mostly bald. Occasionally, he even sported a bit of stubble as if he couldn’t bother with the vanity of beard-grooming. After all, he had bullies like Brutus to fight. In every episode, Popeye ensured that good triumphed over evil.
I grew up believing that people were good. Bad guys were just television entertainment to enforce the seemingly universal truth that we all want the same thing – for the good guy to win, order to exist, and happy endings to prevail. We certainly couldn’t accept the havoc brought by bullies such as Brutus. Read more →
Writers are told to write what you know. I started writing about mercy for the exact opposite reason. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t understand it. It was a word with a heavy veneer covering the solid wood underneath. While I almost never heard the word outside of a church, I could see the need for giving and receiving it everywhere. It’s as ancient as the air we breathe and as transparent. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it and life is suffocating without it.
A friend of mine confessed on a recent girls’ night that her Christmas tree was still up. It was past mid-March. New Year’s resolutions had already been forgotten, Cupid already shot his arrow, leprechauns already spent their pots of gold, and cumulus clouds were already forming April showers in the skies, so I didn’t really know what to say.
She seemed relatively nonchalant about it, and I told her I didn’t know whether she had become fully liberated or if she had simply gone over the edge. There seems to be a fine line between those things. Read more →
Who knew that dumping a bucket of ice water over your head in the name of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis would become a favorite American pastime? My Facebook page has been inundated with friends paying forward ALS challenges. I have heard the chilly screams of just about everyone I know, voluntarily drench themselves with icy water.
I am not sure if we are creating a country of masochists, but I kind of like it. Read more →