Funerals are difficult occasions. Some people skip them altogether; others turn them into a ‘celebration of life’, and others have a more traditional gathering. There are tears of weeping, and perhaps as we tell stories about our departed loved one we also have moments when we smile through those tears. I hope so.
We can put a lot of effort into a funeral or memorial service, and that’s needful. It’s a chance to give our loved one a proper ‘send-off’, to gather friends and family together, to surround each other with love.
Funerals and memorials are something we somehow manage, sometimes with a supernatural grace or effort at the time – and looking back we might even wonder how we did it. (I read an eulogy at my daughter’s funeral. How on earth?? I don’t know! I just remember wanting to do everything I could to show respect for Catherine.)
There can be quite a build up to the funeral, and then somewhat of an anti-climax afterwards. Everyone else goes home and their life continues, whilst ours is forever changed.
When all is said and done, the funeral marks only one short moment in our journey of grief.
I came across this:
The greatest suffering at the death of a friend does not occur immediately upon the event. It comes when the world have forgotten that you have cause to weep; for when the eyes are dry, the heart is often bleeding.
There are hours,—no, they are more concentrated than hours,—there are moments, when the thought of a lost and loved one, who has perished out of your family circle, suspends all interest in every thing else; when the memory of the departed floats over you like a wandering perfume, and recollections come in throngs with it, flooding the soul with grief.
The name, of necessity or accidentally spoken, sets all your soul ajar; and your sense of loss, utter loss, for all time, brings more sorrow with it by far than the parting scene.
This poignant description of grief by 19th century author Nehemiah Adams was written out of the fullness of his heart, as he had buried his little daughter Agnes.
If I was an artist, I would try to paint this. The broken circle. The memory floating like perfume. The soul flooded with grief. The soul ajar – broken open.
But these are more than beautiful words. There is an enduring truth. “Your sense of loss, utter loss, for all time, brings more sorrow with it by far than the parting scene.”
There’s the raw agony of the immediate loss; there are the bewildering hours and days right following their death, and the emotions of a funeral.
But that is only the start of grief. After this comes the enduring grief; the continued life journey from which someone who means so much to you is missing. “More sorrow with it.”
“Is there no pity sitting in the clouds, That sees into the bottom of my grief?” wrote the Bard, William Shakespeare.
He also wrote: “Grief makes one hour ten.”
Time takes on another concept when we grieve. Did the death happen yesterday, or was it last month, or was it within the last moment?
One thing for sure: there is no timetable for grieving, just seasons that can be more or less difficult to bear.
Shelley, another poet, described his experience: “Ah, woe is me! Winter is come and gone. But grief returns with the revolving year.”
We all know what ‘the revolving year’ means. Those times in our own personal life cycle when grief comes around very hard.
Like at the moment: If the summer holidays is a time replete with happy memories of where you used to go and what you used to do, the pain of absence might make these August weeks very difficult to bear.
And it’s not like only the first summer/occasion that is difficult. “There are griefs which grow with years,” wrote Harriet Beecher Stowe.
All of that to say – a funeral is a fixed point in time, one that is often necessary to bear, but grief goes so far beyond that.
It would be helpful to those who grieve if our friends and family realised this!
- Practical guide to arranging a funeral by Citizen’s Advice Service
- Preparing our child’s funeral by The Compassionate Friends (although addressed to parents, it has some good ideas that could be applicable for any relationship)
- Planning a funeral by The Quakers Social Action (Mostly concerned with the financial/practical aspect)
- Grief and support after a funeral