Funerals are odd things. They’re not for the dead, for one thing, it’s a ritual for the living to feel some kind of purpose in the death that just happened to them, to gather family and friends that you haven’t seen in years to give platitudes, and while it sometimes brings people together, it’s never for the sake of the person who died. What we fail to understand most of the time is funerals open flood gates at times – we all grieve in our own ways, day after day when the person we care about dies, we grieve in whatever way helps us and no one can ever tell us it’s wrong – but somehow at a funeral, the idea of being the one who is sobbing the most gives some people an idea that they’re showing just how much they care.
Funerals never worked like that for me. I don’t seem to fall apart crying unless someone I care about is crying – a living person – and otherwise it’s just a moment to say goodbye to someone I’ve already made my peace with leaving. The hurt in others impacts me more than the idea of burying a body.
But the real rub is the fact that I know funerals aren’t just about burying a body – nor the ritual I just mentioned – it’s about burying ideas that you’ll have more conversations with someone. It can sometimes put a finality to things in the sense that you bury hopes and dreams and worries and fears and everything that’s been built up in you over years and years in someone’s life, and you get to settle those in the dirt – or ash – and see them off. I understand the ritual and why it’s necessary, and I understand the burial of things we’ve grown accustomed to in a more real sense of the word, but…
People hold on as hard as they can sometimes, not to the person, or even the memory of the person, but the feelings they have because things have been colliding so hard together for so long that they’re crying for things that happened before this – things that happened in the weeks prior to that death and funeral – and then they feel a sort of heavy guilt on them that makes them feel worse. It’s not something anyone should have to feel, but it happens. Somehow we’ve gotten it into our head that the harder we cry, and the harder we fall apart, the more they meant to us.
But the fact of the matter is, nothing can measure how much someone meant to you. Not the final conversation you had with them a handful of weeks before their passing, or the way you cried as soon as you heard the news – nothing like that. It comes down to the fact that if we continue to hold ourselves to standards that require us to make the biggest gestures possible to show how we care, we’ll never be sated. We’ll beat ourselves up for the rest of our lives thinking that we somehow let that person down, and then what do we have left but a wraith of their memory hanging over our shoulder and judging us.
No one who loves you ever wants that. No one who loves you says ‘If you don’t cry so hard at my funeral it’s coming out every orifice you do not love.’ Because people want you to move on. They want you to grieve, yes, but they want you to live a life like they did. They want you to create the memories with them in the back of your mind and have a smile remembering the times you did something similar with them. You’re meant to move on, and climb that mountain, and plant that flag, and you don’t even have to say ‘this is for you, so-and-so!’ because deep down you know that your life is where it is because of the multitudes of people who have come through it and left. You’ve formed into this person because of what you’ve gone through, and there’s no virtual score card which is going to be tallied up to count your compassion for someone who has died because you cried less than Betty Sue two rows over.
We bury more than bodies at funerals, because we try so very hard to forget, and the to put an end to the memories so we can think of how bad it’s going to hurt having this rift in us – but in the end… in the end, no one really leaves you. I’m not spiritual, or religious at all, but I know that as long as you can remember someone, as long as you can think of one good thing, you’ve got that support forever. So say good bye to the body, say good bye to the sadness – though let yourself feel it every now and again if you need to, just don’t judge yourself if you don’t cry – and let your life continue knowing that the experiences you’ve gotten from that person have helped you grow.