Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Funereal Stuff

Erik and I spent much of Sunday night lying awake talking of death and funerals and such.  His grandfather, my friend Paul, and on.  I told him, again, that I don't much care what he does with me after I kick the bucket, but no open casket and no graveside service as I consider both ghoulish.  (Particularly the former.)

Funerals, of course, are for those left behind.  They give us a way to structure our mourning and so to be able to get a handle on our own grief enough to move forward with "normal" life.  The new normal.

I found the funeral incredibly touching for not having known the deceased.  (In case I didn't make it clear in my previous post, it was for the father of a good friend of mine from high school.)  It was a Catholic ceremony and so followed a liturgical format intimately familiar to me.*  The homily was moving even if it started off a little oddly with some prattle about prophets that seemed related to nothing which followed.

I held my own just fine until the end, watching my friend walk down the aisle behind her father's casket, carrying one of her daughters and sobbing.  Several of us moved forward to touch her and comfort her while she waited for the white ceremonial cloth to be removed and replaced with the flag.

Afterward, Mark and I discussed the last time we had been to St. Benedict's, for Paul's funeral.  I imagine I will only ever go to that church for funerals.  It seems to be the East Side Catholic church of choice, at least for our little circle of folks.  As Mark noted, we are starting to get to that age where these things will come more often; we aren't very old but our parents are all aging.

We did not attend the graveside service.  As I stated earlier, I am not fond of the existence of the things.  I find them unnecessarily cruel to the family, but to be honest I've never been to one as a family member, so perhaps they are actually soothing when you're in that position.  And since I won't need to know where the grave is in the future, there seemed little need.  (And my friend told several of us there was no need for us to go; I most likely would have otherwise, as there was a heartbreakingly small number of people at the church service.)

I did go to the graveside service after Paul and Melissa's funeral; they were buried side-by-side.  I go visit every now and then; I have discovered that I can rely on muscle memory to drive me there, too, just like to get to Mark's house the back way.  The last time I went I cleaned off the headstones and left a note since I didn't have flowers, and checked to make sure Mrs. House is still alive (only her birth date on her waiting headstone--and how must one feel to see that?).

It hit me as I was driving away that day that I really, really wish I had somewhere to go and sit and mourn my uncle.  He was not buried, though, he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Arizona.  I kind of hate that now, but it's what he wanted.  Me, I like graveyards.  I have a little mental map of where Paul is buried and a little mental map of where my paternal grandparents are buried (though a much more vague one, as I've only been there twice).  The people themselves aren't here, but I like knowing I can go where their remains are and it's considered right and proper to sit and think about them and miss them when you're there.  I don't have that with my uncle.  I think I said before I never got a proper chance to mourn him, because my niece died so soon after and I had to little ones to take care of and my ex-husband was an asshole.  So maybe I would feel different had I been able to go to a funeral for him (which I don't think he had--do Wiccans even do funerals?) and have that closure.

I am a creature of liturgy.  For those of you who might be unaware, a liturgy is a set order of service and set prayers used in that service.  Things are swapped out, but the general set-up is universal.  Hymns, prayers, readings, Psalms, more prayers, Communion, etc, all in their place and all at the same time every week.  It is a beautiful routine which does not require mental gymnastics to keep up with.  I can walk into any Episcopal (or Catholic) church anywhere in the world and know what's going on.  Culture, at is best, is like that.  Our cultural traditions surrounding death--wake, funeral, burial, home visits--provide a framework for us to move through, allows us to know what comes next and what is expected of us.  I know that quite a few people eschew those traditions now, thinking they are too depressing (and perhaps I'm wandering down that road a bit myself, with my distaste for graveside services), but I am no fan of that.  Funerals aren't about the person who has passed on, they're about the ones left behind.  Even with our wildly differing faith traditions, even with regional variances, we have a certain way of doing things after a death, and I think it's a poor idea to depart from that without a very, very good reason.  I'd never support the family of an atheist giving him a Christian funeral, but I don't much care for skipping any ceremony altogether.  It really does make it harder for the mourners.

*It was familiar enough to make me feel smarter than I really am.  Catholic and Episcopal services are about 90% the same.  About 2% of the difference is on the priest's side, and the rest of it is in the congregation's responses.  Which meant that every single thing I said was wrong somehow. Before the Gospel is read, the reader says "The Gospel according to _____" and the congregation responds "Glory to you, Lord Christ".  In the Episcopal service, anyway.  Catholics? "Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ." One freaking word.  I was one freaking word off.


peter said...

The graveside service for Micaela wasn't remotely soothing. I was wishing I could join her. Completely awful.

Jennifer said...

I hate funerals, but they do seem such a necessary thing. Grave sites too, although I always find some excuse not to visit.

breda said...

When my father died, the graveside service was awful and heartbreaking. But now, in retrospect, I can see its usefulness in the grieving process. It gives you a hard finality - not the burying of the body, but the walking away from your loved one. Because you MUST walk away. That is the beginning of the "after" of the before and after, that first step is into a new, and vastly different, life for those still living.