Thursday, March 22, 2012
I am not neatly following the steps of grief...
Apparently I am not neatly following the seven (or is it five?) steps of grief. I went straight from shock and denial to depression.
Funerals are hectic, busy affairs full of people and events. Then everyone finally goes home and you step into a world of vast emptiness. Everything is gray and insignificant.
It seems so strange to me that this deeply personal experience is in fact universal. In my despair, I think of so many others who have suffered losses much greater than mine. This just drives me further into the black abyss.
“Remember who you are,” advises my pastor, Steve Burton of Covenant Presbyterian Church. He means stand in Christ. The devil attacks when we are weakest, sowing doubt and hopelessness.
In Corinthians 2, Jesus says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” I shudder to think where I would be without my faith and church, my dear friends and family.
Somehow, I deluded myself into believing I would be prepared for my mother’s death. What nonsense! We are never prepared. The arms that comforted me as a child and as an adult are gone forever from this world. It will never be the same.
I had forgotten the intensity of grief, which proves that God is kind. It has been 17 years since my father’s death. Grief is a physical thing. It changes the way you eat, sleep and feel. There is no shortcut. One must plow through it.
I realize how insensitive I have been and vow to change this. At any time, many people in our midst are grieving, usually in silent desperation. Death is very much a part of life.
The memories of the last few days are etched forever in my mind. The night before the funeral, we gathered around the dinner table. There was a moment of happy reflection. The food was good and the wine was flowing. Suddenly, the lights went out.
We checked the houses around us. They were fine. We tried flipping the circuit breakers. No luck. We ate dinner by candlelight and decided Celia was irritated that we were having a dinner party without her. She was never shy about letting you know what she thought. The next day we found a mysteriously tripped 150-amp breaker outside the house.
Several people reminded me of things I left out of the obituary. Celia was a pilot, a Delta Gamma, an expert bridge player, a scuba diver, a coin collector and a museum docent. No doubt there is more.
My 13-year-old son Lawrence and Celia had been at odds in the months before her death. In the private viewing of the body, Lawrence pulled a thick sealed envelope from his coat pocket. He slipped the letter into my mother’s hands just as they closed the casket for the final time. Seeing this made me lose it, just as the visitation line was commencing.
The church was packed. Steve Burton delivered a wonderful eulogy. I sang “Jesus What a Friend for Sinners” and “Be Thou My Vision” with every ounce of heart and soul left in my body.
Afterward, we had a grand party, just what Celia would have wanted. The bartenders somehow failed to show up. Thank goodness we had a fast, fancy wine opener to save the day. Funny how, just a month before, she had insisted that I buy it for her.
At the end of the night, several people read heartfelt letters written about and for Celia portraying so many beautiful things she had done for others. It was a great celebration of her life.
The Hollywood Cemetery in McComb is huge and beautiful. It was difficult to find the Emmerich family plot. The spring weather was magnificent.
We wanted the gravediggers to lower the casket in the grave as we watched. We all gathered around and wept and placed flowers and momentos into the grave. Seeing the broken roots and red Pike County earth drove home the finality. I recalled noting the same red earth years ago as we buried my father.
Then I wandered over to a nearby cedar tree and sat down and sobbed, just as I had done 17 years before.
There was a beautiful moment as all the young children walked from tombstone to tombstone as we explained our family history and who was buried where.
We had a wonderful lunch for 30 of us at McComb’s wonderful restaurant, The Caboose. That drew the funeral activities to a close. Many dear friends and family members went on their way.
I drove back with just my son John, who is 15. John is an introverted child and my mother’s parting act was miraculously bringing him out of his shell.
During the funeral service Pastor Burton quoted John describing his grandmother as “the most interesting person on the planet earth and the best grandmother anyone could ever have.” Just this past summer, John and my mother spent three weeks in France together. A trip he will cherish forever.
In true fashion, John’s sixth sense gave me the perfect ride back. He had brought with him his favorite CD: Daniel O’Donnell’s “Songs of Faith.” Of all the recordings in the world, this was the one I needed to hear the most. It is Irish gospel music.
I sobbed yet again when I heard “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” It is one of the most popular folk songs of all time. It’s about burying your mother:
I hoarsely sang along, tears streaming down my face. John politely asked, “Poppa, shall I advance to the next track?” I laughed through my tears, told him no, that I needed this. It was good for me, and I thanked him for the music.
“I love you more than the oceans need the moon,” he said to me gently and stroked my arm. Then we were both crying.
Later that week, I was sitting late at night with my sister’s family and my family at my mother’s house when it started to pour. “The gullywasher,” I thought.
Instinctively, I headed outside into the cold rain. I stood in the street and watched the lightning flash around me, quickly becoming drenched to the bone. I shivered and stared at the rivulets of rain cascading down the street and merging into a flood of water on the way to the storm drain. The light from the street lamps made the thousands of rivulets sparkle as they bumped and merged with each other. They seemed to represent my mother’s life and how she touched so many people.
Everywhere I looked the rain was falling down in torrential waves. The tears on my cheeks were nothing in comparison. A deep abiding thought came to me and I prayed, “Thank you God, for crying all the tears I could not. This is how many tears she deserves.”
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