It took nearly forty years, but I have just experienced my first funeral as a family member. Any funeral I had previously attended was for a distant relative or on my husband’s side of the family. This time I was more than an attendee, I was immediate family. The whole experience was profound and deeply rooted in tradition. To be honest, I used to feel that these traditions were obsolete or even torturous. That was before I was on the receiving end.
One thing I used to rant about was the receiving line. This seemed like such torture for a family who was grieving. What good could come from hours on their feet, speaking to people they may or may not know, hearing the same words over and over from people who are very likely to say the wrong thing? Now I know what a healing experience it can be to see all the people who loved my loved one. Just the effort put forth from my friends from out of town to come and show me some love was so appreciated.
The tradition of bringing food always puzzled me before. In this day and age, can’t people just order in or pick up what they need when they get hungry? Now I understand. What a huge relief it was, after hours on our feet and such emotional stress, to simply sit down and eat without having to think about cooking or ordering or even choosing what to eat. People were amazingly thoughtful and creative. Some brought paper plates and disposable utensils, napkins and a table cloth. I have one friend who brings breakfast food for a grieving family, and another who always brings toilet paper. At one point, there were 47 people in my sister-in-law’s house. You can see how these items were so useful.
A few months ago, a close friend of mine experienced a sudden death in her family. I was desperate for something, anything, to do to help. This unfortunate hindsight helped me understand the multiple times I heard, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” It also allowed me to take my friends up on these offers, knowing how much they want to be of some service during times of trouble.
Every card, every hug, every inquiry as to how I was getting along, meant a lot to me. It would be so much easier to avoid a person in pain, but I am writing all this mainly to encourage people to speak to people in crisis or pain. Awkward though it may be, saying something is so much better than saying nothing. Sending a card is even better. It was easy to tell which of my friends had experienced loss before. I’m sure it was still difficult for them to do, but they knew the value of that spoken word, the eye contact, the hug. As cliche as it sounds, these acts of love supported me in a time when I felt more than a little lost.
Don’t wait until you have experienced loss to handle it well. As we get older, these times will get more frequent. When someone you know is hurting, reach out. When it is your turn, soak up the love that others want to give you. Embrace the beautiful traditions and the healing experience of receiving your friends.