Funerals: Beauty in Shades of Gray

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.

Read more

Prayer: What a Catch

Last year, a friend of mine was taken to the emergency room.  She had the flu and was in critical condition.  Before I rushed to the hospital, I prayed a rosary for her.  The memory is like a blur.  My head was racing, my rosary beads were twisting, my stomach was clenching, my hands were shaking, and my heart was aching.  Even though I sat in a chair in my living room, every part of me seemed to be in motion.  I was anxious to get to the emergency room, but from somewhere inside a voice repeated.  Pray.  Pray.  Pray.

When I finished the rosary, I went on Facebook and begged others to pray for her.  I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I know it included “even if you don’t pray – pray anyway.”  I’m not usually that bossy in Facebook posts so I hoped people would get the seriousness of the situation.  Even if it wasn’t their friend or their situation, even if they were estranged from God, I needed them to pray.  I needed help for my friend.  I figured if someone didn’t have their own faith, they could borrow their neighbors and throw something up to God.  He’s a great catcher.  That’s what he does over and over again – he catches us.  He doesn’t get caught up in who knows who, or the grudges someone is holding against him.  He isn’t keeping score.  He just catches.

I don’t know how many people prayed for her that day but it seemed like an awful lot.  At the hospital, I prayed with her children.  Friends texted that they were praying.  I called our church and asked them to send a priest to pray too.  He came and administered the sacrament of anointing of the sick.  The doctors were doing everything they could, her friends and family were covering her in prayer, and she was fighting like the warrior she was. Read more

Death’s Bloom: Legacy of Love

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” seems like such a dark way to portray death.  Anyone who has ever lost a beloved knows that death is both cruelly final and endlessly enduring.  The love, influence, and lessons the deceased impart doesn’t stop with their heartbeat.

Sprouting from the death of winter into the hope of spring is the fragile bloom of memories that remain in our hearts.  It’s a beautiful gift that dulls the thorny sting of loss.

Recently, I attended the rosary of a friend who lost her mother.  Comforting the sorrowful and burying the dead are important works of mercy.  When my stepfather passed away, I remember well the people who attended the funeral or who stopped by with a meal.  It was such a comfort to have our loss acknowledged.  It reminds us that even though we lost a loved one, we had not lost love.  It envelops us in our cocoon of grief promising life’s joy will reemerge like a butterfly.  That’s a beautiful thing to be reminded of when you are grieving. Read more

Grace: the hour I first believed

Laura is pictured on the far left with some of her sisters from Saint Gianna Circle who supported her during her illness and were graced by her friendship.

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.

Read more

Spring Christmas

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

Easter Rose

During this Lenten season, I lost a dear friend unexpectedly.  It was a Tuesday, and I planned to go to the grocery store.  Instead, I was in the ER and then the ICU, waiting, hoping, and praying while trying to comfort her two daughters who are the same ages as my boys.  I had so many joyful memories with these girls:  picking blueberries on a hot summer day, watching them bob in the pool, laughing, and splashing with abandon, and chatting leisurely in their kitchen on carefree topics that meandered like the veining in the marble on their island.  We went trick-or-treating with them, hunted Easter eggs, and watched fireworks on the Fourth of July. Read more

Connections not Coincidence

In the ninth grade, a classmate accidentally shot himself and died.  His death was 30 years ago, more than twice my age at the time so it seems odd to notice these connections to it now.

I don’t recall much, other than feeling stunned and sad.  But I do remember leaving the funeral and seeing my Spanish teacher across the street with this pained looked of sympathy acknowledging the enormity of his loss was inexplicable, even to grown-ups. I sensed how bad she hurt for me, for all of us young people who had such little experience with death and tragedy.  The one who always had the answers had no more than her students.

Death is the great equalizer.

I haven’t thought of him in years until a friend acknowledged his birthday on Facebook.  But this isn’t about tragedy or death, but the way we are connected, albeit in ways that can easily be passed off as coincidence.

I recently returned from a trip and told my mom about deceased loved ones I lit candles for in different churches.  I lamented that there were others who I’ve known who died that I wish I lit candles for too.  She suggested that I light one candle for all those who passed.

Then she mentioned how this would include the boy from ninth grade who had died from the gunshot wound.  It had been three decades since we spoke of him.  It seemed like such odd timing: my mom thinking of him the same day I prayed for him at weekday mass and only two days after his birthday, without having any knowledge of either.  This convergence of recollection seemed like one of those God things. It had been 30 years and for all this to surface in a period of three days seemed supernatural.

I hesitated to write about it because it sounds either trivial or mystical.  We live in a world where we want to believe only what we see, hear, touch, and has been validated by science or a positive review on Amazon.  We brush off connections as coincidences and miss opportunities to acknowledge glimpses of God, which aren’t constrained by time or logic.

A fellow classmate honoring the birthday of a deceased friend, reminding others of a joyful life and a tragic death, inspiring prayers said by someone who remembers more the face of mercy in a teacher than the details of the funeral, and a mother who has known many of her children’s peers pass away acknowledging just this particular one, reminds me of our connection to each another that is undoubtedly threaded by God’s hand.

I suppose it sounds crazy to think these connections mean something and if you are open enough to think that they could the question easily becomes what do they mean?  But I don’t have any more answers than my Spanish teacher did on that sad day.  It’s by acknowledging the connection that I feel joy, more aware how those we mourn live on, and the very real ways that God connects all of us through him.

Too often, I am unaware.  I look at the concrete, the to-dos, and the should-have done, and I miss the many ways God shows his presence in the physical world.

I was lucky to be reminded of that presence by someone who has long since stopped having a tangible existence himself.  Yet he lives on in ways that can seem as elusive as the flicker of a candle, but nonetheless burn bright.

In memory of Michael Field. 

You may also want to read a post I wrote about another connection here.

Do you notice “coincidences” in life?  Those things that make you pause or send a tingle up your spine.  They always remind me how we are connected to one another through God and they always make me feel more hopeful about all that I cannot see and understand.  What do you make of them?