In the days between loss of a loved one and the funeral or memorial there is much to be done. The family assembles photos to trace Grandma’s path through life. Arrangements are made for wake, funeral, luncheon, flowers; donation suggestions are decided. Friends call other friends to be sure they have heard. Any and all may be on social media to honor the memory of the person who has died. It is a busy time, punctuated by searing moments of recognition about what is over and what is ahead. For many families and friends, it is a time of mobilization and unity.
But for many, dread collects as the wake and funeral days approach. Those days, the busy distractions are be done, and the recognition of finality will only grow. The expectation is of painful sorrow, yet there is often an unexpected gift.
It comes in several forms. One is the sense of community among the mourners who gather even though it is hard. Whether is it four family members and a minister sitting in a circle in remembrance, reading letters and poems and telling stories (as it was for my mother’s memorial) or hundreds who attend a formal service and travel in procession to the family cemetery (as it was for my in-laws), it makes it clear that we are not alone in our loss or the feelings that come in its wake.
There is also the chance to together experience the arc of the person’s life – from the stories that are told, and the memories that are triggered in each mourner that linger to go home with them. The laughter that often accompanies such memories is likely to stick too, so the day becomes not one of pain and sorrow alone, but of connection and joy at what had been.
Often, there is talk of what the person most believed in and valued, which invites each to carry that legacy forward in their own lives.
In all those ways, the gift for all who loved and admired her is that there are ways for her presence to continue in their lives. In the community formed around her, in the vivid memories that linger, in the chance to carry on her legacy, she can still have a powerful influence in the world.