I offered to go with a friend to a funeral tomorrow. I do not know the person who died, but I know how crappy it is to go to a funeral alone. At my brother’s funeral so many decades ago I sat in the pew among pallbearers I did not know. Well, maybe I did, but I remember none of them now. We sat in that first row beneath the pulpit, each alone in our grief. My solace was an unexpected friend waiting for me in the narthex of the church as we processed out with the casket.
My mother dragged me to a funeral once when I was in my teens. She said it was important for me to know about such things. I suspect, though, that she simply did not want to sit alone.
I have been to too many funerals since then. Some comforting. Some infuriating. Some just sad. There are communities that know how to come together to grieve and honor a life and support a family. And there are communities that don’t – and times where there simply is no community. There have been ruptured families where the children refused to attend. There have been services where everyone was glad the son of a bitch was dead. And there have been gut-wrenching services of murdered children. Too many services. Too many losses. Too much sorrow.
No one should have to go alone.
So I will go tomorrow. I know I have no comfort to offer, only my presence, only the reminder that we do not walk these journeys alone. At least not this day.
I am watching the Vietnam documentary by Ken Burns, so it’s hard to escape grief right now. There was a woman who had her son buried at Arlington because, she said, if they buried him nearby she would be clawing at the dirt to feel the warmth of his body again. That was the most gripping moment for me so far, the left hook that catches you unaware. Eyes welled. I understand this. Last week was the anniversary of my brother’s death. And many of you know I have watched them lower my eldest daughter’s casket into the grave and listened to the grinding of the dump truck filling the hole with dirt.
I never really understood Easter as a child. I saw bunny rabbits and pastels not a divine cry of pain and outrage loud enough to wake the dead, God’s defiance of all our warring and wounding.
I guess it takes time and some dirt under your nails to understand how profoundly Easter bears witness that we were not made for the grave. We were made for life. For connection. To tend a garden. To walk in God’s presence. To rejoice in families and friendship. To enjoy the beauty and abundance of the world. To figure out how to make chocolate and wine. To devise dances and songs from the chicken dance to the Bolshoi. To compose songs and symphonies. To paint majestic canvasses and butterflies on children’s faces. We were made for laughter and tenderness. We were not made for funerals.
But we were made to sit side by side.