The funeral service went as planned. The church was beautifully decorated with all of the appropriate flowers and framed pictures. Your friends and family you expected to see were all accounted for. As well as some kind, unexpected presence of co-workers and neighbors. In that moment, there is a stray split second of comfort from the mounds of support you experience when your literally looking out at the crowd that is in attendance. Inevitably, you must go home. You can’t help but feel a deafening silence in the house, in every room. You know that if you do not tend to the mounds of flowers, lasagnas and sympathy casseroles, you will easily be consumed by them entirely, or at least not be able to move about in your own home.
Day by day, friends and family will call, visit, and write. More sincere socializing will happen AFTER the loss of a loved one rather than prior to. This should bother all of us immensely. Soon, family and friends have come to tuck the dishes all away; the platters of food stored, the vases of flowers have all been watered. Finally, the comforting post-funeral visits have taken place and come to an end. It is unfortutnely, now a quiet time. It is a painfully quiet time. Over the next few days the last of the casseroles are defrosted. Soon, there is no evidence of the once mounds of flowers and food from family and friends. The only sign of evidence that anything happened, at all, is the fresh aching scar on your heart that you are sure will consume you.
If the formalities have come and gone, the over-priced flowers have all bloomed beautifully and wilted away, the sympathy dishes have all been indulged, the phone has finally drawn silent from what was once a frenzy of calls expressing condolences, if all of this had such a scheduled pace, why doesn’t the grief? Why does it feel as if we were supposed to have finished the race of the funeral services and its obligations at the same time? In fact, we cannot deny the urge to perfectly coordinated them. Why is it that we refuse to dig deep into the loss after the “appropriate” time has come and gone? When in fact we have not even reached the starting line of the marathon that is grief.
We are all seemingly under the impression that as we handle death and healing that there is a timeline in which to grieve. Let us take a moment at this point in the article and realize how ridiculousness that sounds. Anyone and everyone who has felt the cold sharp pain of loss knows that there is no such structure. There may be five stages of grief, but what no one tells you are that you will not encounter these stages one by one. No, unfortnenly we will encounter these steps of grief in a blender all at once, on puree, for a very long time. These are inevitable, expected, and a side effect of being on this imperfect earth. However, what shocks me the most is that at about the same time as the casseroles stop coming, so do the hands to help you up, and the ears to listen. It is truly as coordinated as the sunrise and sunset. It is almost as if everyone knows and appropriate time to reach out, and then quickly withdraw their hands so to not “bring it up” again. This leaves those of us experiencing a loss wading in a pool of grief, alone.
“The most important and significant act a friend can do is simply to show up.” That is a very popular quote that makes its viral rounds on social media. It is a fantastic quote and it holds so much truth. However, we’re missing the last small half of this phrase. The most important things a friend can do is to just show up, again, and again, and again. When the flowers wilt and are thrown out, when the dishes of comfort food have all been eaten, when the phone stops ringing, when the visitors stop visiting. This is the most important time a friend can simply be. When the activity of the whole ordeal dies down. The emotions of grief and pain will occasionally be as still as calm waters. But there will come a time when the waves of grief will crash into you. There is no denying that having someone to stand with you, not only in the calm ankle deep water but also in that dark of the storm, ready to take on whatever small ripples or deafening waves may come, is an incredibly healing gift. To simply show up, consistently, un-asked, willfully and expecting nothing in return. Grief will not end when the formalities do. That pain is ever present, demanding the akwleginment and reverence that it deserves. We can reach out those who have that very scar of loss because they carry it with them for the rest of their time here. There is no need for words of comfort; there is no need to fix a thing. Simply wade in the grief with them, so that if the waves begin to roll in, they know they do not stand alone on the sand.