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.
Most of us overcomplicate things. I like to think I am better at this than most people but I know it is not nice to brag. It’s one thing to overthink where you want to go for dinner (I have heard some people do this). It becomes ever more complicated when we fixate on something as weighty as life’s purpose.
By middle age, if not as early as middle school, we realize life doesn’t always go as planned. Yet we live in a world where the plan is all important – we have books about it, calendars, and self-imposed criteria for how it’s all going to go down like we are detectives Sonny and Rico on the 1980s television series Miami Vice. If we just plan life with enough precision, our boat won’t crash, drug traffickers will meet their demise, and life will be as sunny as a sweat-less day at the beach wearing pastel T-shirts and a white suit. That’s the script we are asked to write from ourselves from as early as preschool when a sing-song voice inquires about what we want to be when we grow up. As if it’s merely a matter of picking what color space ship we want to fly during our mission to Mars.
I don’t mean to sound cynical because it can be fun to make plans, motivating to set a course, and rewarding to achieve goals, but you know what they say – “life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” A friend of mine, who could be anyone really because to some degree I think all of us have gone through this – is questioning her life’s purpose. Again, I don’t mean to brag but I have excelled in exploring the same question. “What am I doing with my life?” “What color is my parachute?” “What is God’s plan for me?” “Seriously, God, is that the plan?” I could go on because like I already said, I am really good at over-complicating things. My friend puts it more succinctly and asks: “what are they going to write on my tombstone, ‘a good friend to all?’” While that is better than “she was hit by a bus,” I certainly appreciate her perspective. Read more →
I have a secret file that I keep on my computer. I know that makes me sound a bit like a CIA operative working on top secret missions. (I cannot confirm or deny this). Admittedly, I have a pretty good cover. A married mother of two who writes about Jesus, hangs out with cats, and moonlights for the government while wearing yoga pants and a sweatshirt. You can’t make this stuff up. Or, can you?
Anyway, back to reality. I have this file that I keep on my computer labeled “encouragement.” I know you thought it was going to say “delusions of a Christian writer,” but it doesn’t. It simply reads encouragement. If you were to open it, you would find emails I saved from people who took the time to tell me how my writing touched them. I am not sure what compelled me to start it. (Maybe because I was consumed with self-doubt, terrified that the vulnerabilities I shared would humiliate myself and my family, and perhaps, worse of all, that I was leaving a paper trail of evidence supporting an extended stay in a mental health facility. You know, just your small, everyday concerns). When I would get an email of appreciation or encouragement, it made me feel less alone, braver, and best of all, that I was making a difference. I cherish them. Each kindness feels like a gift from God, encouragement made holy through the sacred gift of love in which it was made. Deleting them felt akin to throwing a fresh bouquet of flowers in the trash. I couldn’t do it. So, I started my secret file, a hoarder of happy words. Read more →
“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 →
In grade school, at the beginning of the school year, students are often asked to write about their summer vacation. However, as the sun begins to set on the season, I am contemplating how to live like its summer all year long.
After all, some of the most important lessons in life are learned in the summer, away from the routine and rigor that may be necessary, but is nothing like a day at the beach.
Here are my top five ways to live like its summer – no writing required:
Be a tourist: You don’t have to wear a camera around your neck to capture the best of life. You just need the perspective of a curious tourist excited to learn, explore, discover, and indulge. Be open to new experiences, people, points of view, and cultures. There’s a whole world out there, so be willing to get outside of yours and pursue new opportunities, meet new people, and share new adventures. Read more →
A classmate of my 4-year old nephew kept crying at preschool, so my nephew put his arm around him and asked what was wrong. Through tears, the boy told him he missed his mom. My nephew responded, “We all miss our moms, but we have to be here anyway.” With that, the little boy wiped his face, walked up to the teacher and gave her his tissue.
(I know it would have been a cleaner story if the boy just put the tissue in the trash instead of getting the teacher all germy. But I just write the truth however unsanitary it may be. )
The teacher had already tried to comfort the boy, but it was my nephew’s ability to identify with what the child was feeling that finally helped him move on. I think how much this relates to all of us regardless of our age or how we dispose of snotty tissues.
It’s a comfort to know we are not alone. So often, in our sadness, loneliness, and lowliness, we feel like the only ones. Instead of reaching out, we go further inward. Our suffering becomes isolating and that makes us feel worse.
I have never been a horse person. In grade school, some of the other girls had pictures of the shiny brown mammoths on the cover of their Trapper Keepers, the eighties in-vogue binders with the velcro flap. The horses had perfectly straight hair and were frolicking in a pastoral scene of rolling green hills. I suppose it was designed to inspire students to organize their notes, which much like the attraction to horses, was a concept lost on me.
But all that changed with Ruby, a horse I came to know through a friend.
She and her family move every couple of years because of her husband’s career. She handles the challenges with such remarkable grace that it would be easy to assume that it’s as simple as getting back up on that proverbial horse after an unanticipated fall.
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 →
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 →