As I recently sat in a memorial service for a friend who died from a heroin overdose, I realized that each word from the speakers had meaning and value. The church was sparsely filled. The service organic, raw, and charged with honesty and vulnerability. I truly believe this experience would have been vastly different two years ago.
I wrote my first piece about Covid-time funerals after the death of my uncle in the early part of 2021. So much has changed during lockdown, but our time-honored ceremonies have undergone a particular kind of reset — a fundamental altering of the expectations we bring to the rituals of our losses.
The change has quietly shifted the undercurrent of our grieving process and, in doing so, causes us to redefine what truly matters. In light of those changes, how do we honor the dead and provide space for the living to process transitions? When it comes to our traditions, what should we keep and what should we discard?
Brutal honesty is heart-balm to the grieving
Having time to do some thinking this past year made me acutely aware of my ego’s battle with my id. I realized that I spent so much energy on obligations that I undertook because of personal/familial/societal expectations. When the very structure that we used to time our days was suddenly pulled from underneath us, all that was left was a white noise of possibility where there once was dutiful scaffolding.
For me, the simplicity of pandemic funerals provided a rare clarity that comes from calmness. We lost our patience for faux-optimism and pat platitudes.
The minister at my friend’s funeral said, “When someone is in trouble, the people around them become uncomfortable and run away. Here, we allow trouble to draw us closer. We run toward people who are having problems. Our ministry is based on finding the elephant in the room.”
His revelation shocked me. And, I’m someone who tries to live her life by the philosophy of running toward — it shocked me in the same way as having to tell someone their fly is undone or something is hanging from their nose. Like — we all know life happens, but, damn…