The church was lovely -- warm woods and simplicity -- as I listened to the funeral service for my cousin's husband. His death was particularly sad because he had fought so valiantly for life during six months of devastating illness. My cousin was exhausted from the long ordeal, as hopes were buoyed and shattered again and again, and then he was gone. I never knew her husband well, so I listened intently as his daughter, his brother and his sister spoke of him. I am unable to eulogize loved ones -- my throat aches as I try to hold back tears, and even when there is much I would love to say, I cannot give voice to my grief. I envy those who are strong enough to speak as their hearts are breaking.
As I grow older, funerals become more difficult for me. As I hear the familiar words and sing the beautiful hymns, memories of other funerals and other losses surface again, and my tears flow for all of the loved ones who have passed on. I relive the moments in simple country churches and large cathedrals and tiny funeral home chapels where my heart has bid farewell, or where I have watched beloved friends grieving.
Unfortunately, love and loss are as inevitable as sunrise and sunset. A life rich in love is a blessed gift, but loving freely and deeply also means learning the harsh lessons of grieving. I believe we will all be reunited with our loved ones when we ourselves pass on, and this softens the pain, but my belief does not lessen the immediate sense of disbelief and loss. I have watched my parents and sister suffer slow deaths, which left me with a sense of relief that they were free from their pain; I have also experienced the shock of sudden deaths -- I lost my cousin in his early forties to a heart attack, and still cannot quite believe that his humor and vitality were taken from us with no chance for good-byes.
Somehow, each funeral is harder to bear -- even those where I am more a bystander than griever. I cry for my friends who stare numbly at the casket of their loved one. After so many years of living, instead of feeling wiser and more able to give comfort, I kneel in the pew or stand at the gravesite, and know that there is really nothing I can say or do. I know that time does heal the immediate devastating sense of loss, but I also know that my eyes still well with tears when I remember my father's struggles to breathe in his last months, or when I think of my sister's laughter.
And so, as I sit at new funerals, I relive them all in my heart. I remember the lovely eulogy for my father by a close friend. I remember the biblical references read as we buried my friend's father -- "he fought the good fight...". I remember the soaring feeling of the beautiful "On Eagles Wings" as we buried my uncle. I remember the agonizingly beautiful bagpipes playing my beloved "Amazing Grace" as we buried firemen friends. And I cry a few more tears with each memory.