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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Not another funeral...

Yesterday was very interesting.  I began my day with a psychology mid-term, which at my age, takes a little more studying.  I could give you life experience, but don't ask me to label it, but alas it is done and I survived.  My evening class was quite different, as I have stated in an earlier posting, I am taking Introduction to Thanatology (the study of death).  So last night we had a field trip, no permission slips required or school buses needed.  Our class met as usual and then we each drove to a nearby funeral home. 

When I was younger, funeral homes did not scare me, and they still don't, but they have now taken on a different meaning.  We walked in and immediately you notice the scent that is always prevalent in funeral homes.  Not a bad scent, but just for me their signature scent.  They all smell the same.  I immediately noticed how our group got quieter, my fellow class mates and I began to whisper.  There was no casket, no decedent present, but yet a funeral home has a certain air about it, which demands respect.  I guess that is where the phrase comes from 'to pay our respects.'  There is a certain air that speaks of dignity, and calls us to be more in tune with what is happening here.  We are sharing in some one's grief, bearing witness to the loss, and comforting family, friends and each other.  It is our chance to say good-bye, to express our sympathy, and to know that we shared, even it only for a brief moment in their loss.

Of course, we sat in the parlor while our professor spoke of the different aspects of the funeral, what each item in the room represented, etc.  The funeral director explained what is offered and how varying the services can be.  For examples if it is a Catholic funeral, there is a crucifix and all religious icons stay in the room.  If it is a Christian service, there is only a cross present.  For Jewish services, all religious icons are removed.  If there is a Hindi or Buddhist funeral, they set up tables for incense and such.  They even have had Wicca ceremonies, it was all quite interesting, and gave us insight into other cultures and religions. 

From there we now were given a tour of the funeral home.  For those who have had to make such arrangements, the office areas, conference rooms, and showrooms are very familiar to you.  If you have only gone to 'pay your respects' then the parlor would be the only area you would know.  I have of course had to make funeral arrangements more than once.  I helped with my grandparents arrangements, my brothers and I took care of everything for my Dad, even picking out the casket, and of course my husband and I, took care of Rachel's funeral arrangements.  So being in the showroom was not new to me.  I looked around at the coffins and caskets, marveled at the cost, and looked at what was new for families.  Now from here we went to places that only the funeral staff ever enter and I will leave it at that.  You can use your imagination. 

Once we completed our tour, had any of our questions answered, we were dismissed.  As I was leaving, I realized that I had felt a tightness, an unease of sorts, it still bothered me to be in a funeral home.  It's been four years and it is still difficult, but I have come along way since Rachel's funeral. 

It took me a long time before I could enter the funeral home that had taken care of Rachel and where we had made all the arrangements.  Rachel died in September, and a family friend died a few months later in December.  It was at the funeral home we had used, and I felt compelled to go, to express my sympathy.  One of my brothers wanted to go also, and said he would go with me.  Well off we went, I pulled into the parking lot, got out of the car and proceeded to the entrance of the funeral home.  As we approached, one of the employees opened the door for us.  I froze literally, I looked at my brother and simply said 'I can't do it.'  The employee looked at both of us, and recognizing me, said it is okay, I'll let the family know you were here.  I immediately broke into tears, uncontrollable sobbing, and ran to my car.  I cried all the way home. 

For the most part, I had gone to wakes, literally doing a quick visit, I still do, but I had not been able to go back to where Rachel was waked, until last year.  Early in the year a dear family friend had died, and even though they are not related to me we had called him Uncle Joe.  So of course I had to make an appearance.  I did the usual, signed the guest book, knelt in prayer before the decedent (us Catholics do that), and then went over to the family.  His wife, Aunt Cat, grabbed my hand, and asked me to sit.  Now this is the funeral home, I could feel the breath catch in my throat, feel the tightening, oh my God, how can I do this.  I don't even know what she said to me, I just began to look around.  I began hoping someone was behind me, so I could use the excuse to get up, I searched for an escape route, anything.  But as I looked around, what I found was no reminders of Rachel, this was totally different.  I began to relax a little, but still felt a little apprehension.

That same year in July, I was put to the test, my uncle died.  Our family, like many families, use the same funeral home for all our arrangements.  So now I had to not only express my condolences, I would have to sit there.  These would be many of the same people who had attended my daughter's funeral, we would be going to the same church, etc.  There were so many similarities.  I found my self sitting off in a quite room, I could not be with everyone else, it was just too difficult.  This was not the first funeral, but it was just too much like Rachel's.  From the funeral home, to the church, to the cemetery, and even the repast.  It was all the steps I had traveled that one last time with Rachel.  I knew in my heart that it would be a family member that would force me to face this demon, if you will.

I remember attending my first funeral after Rachel's death, being at the funeral home, going to the church, and then to the cemetery.  I felt drained for days, it seemed to pull at every fiber.  But I realize now that we are all part of the process, all part of this circle.  We comfort and we are comforted, we share in others grief and we grieve.  So many times I will notice that a funeral will be private, and I look back at Rachel's funeral and I think, what I would have missed out on.  I would not have known that she was loved, that so many people felt saddened by our loss, and that they needed like us, to say good-bye.  It gave me and my family great comfort and sustained us for days and months.  I still think back to her funeral and feel a gratitude that so many people attended, shared our grief and cared.  

We all dread funerals, we definitely don't want to plan one, but eventually we all attend and plan one.  But this is, I believe very important for the bereaved, it allows us to express our grief openly, to share our grief with others, even total strangers in an environment where everyone understands.  It also allows the public to grieve, to share in the loss, to say their good-byes, and for some to let us know they have been down this same road. 

I know some people may not agree, but for me it made a difference, it allowed me to share my daughter with others one last time, share our grief, and find comfort in the compassion of others.  I am always grateful to those who expressed their sympathy, either through cards, flowers, or just being there with us.  Never underestimate the power of a funeral.  What a beautiful tribute to our loved one.  What a wonderful expression of our love.

However you choose to say your farewells, or whatever your culture or religious beliefs prescribe, allow yourself have this one last opportunity.  An opportunity to do all you can for your loved one, one more time.

Share the love, remember the love, and know they are always with us.

Blessings! and until we meet again.


  1. Rose Mary your trip to the funeral home must have opened many wounds for you.
    I do hope you don't mind that I would like to follow on from your post by writing about Jeremy's funeral as my blog is my record for future generations. My story, readily available when I am not around.
    In my thoughts. Fly free Rachel

  2. Chez, I look forward to reading about Jeremy, his life and how you celebrated his life. We are not islands and very much need to share our stories, learn from each other, and truly know that none of us is ever alone. For me the funeral was my final farewell, it was the college graduation that would not take place, the wedding I would never host, and everything else wrapped into one final celebration of Rachel's Life. So feel free to follow up on any of my postings with thoughts of your own. As mom's you and I truly know what this death means, and to have others view different perspectives coming from the same pain is always a very, very good thing. Thank you for your sharing, thank you for you, and I know you will leave much more than just a story for any future generations. Take care, praying for you, Rose Mary xoxo