This past week, a lot of things happened. In flying down the Interstate toward Gillette, Wyoming to help settle up and pay respects to Kerrie’s aunt Dorothy, I found a large number of thoughts bouncing around in my head – thoughts of legacies and remembrance and history.
I had never really considered funerals to be anything but sad affairs, even when the idea of celebration was mentioned. I didn’t see funerals to be celebrations. I couldn’t fathom that concept. I knew one thing – someone had passed away, and that person wasn’t coming back, and what could there possibly be to celebrate?
And then my grandfather died. It wasn’t a celebration. It was a memorial. It was a release. I understood funerals and memorial services more for what they represented. The act is for us, the living, to say goodbye and pass our respects and do what you need to do to begin the grieving process, the always hard quiet moments when things get too weighty to understand.
It came so much more into focus this past week. Here I was, essentially, watching a funeral and helping the grieving from the outside. I wasn’t close to Dorothy – I had only met her twice, once at our wedding and once Christmas 2005. So I could put things into perspective; my eyes were unclouded by sorrow and loss, and while I was sad to see someone go and sorry to hear the stories and memories, I was also free to do the consoling, to not need to be consoled.
What I found is that funerals are one of the most pure feelings of release. Everything is being released – the relationship you had, the physical dependence, the worry and the wonder. And for us, we’re releasing our feelings, letting tears fall from our eyes, blurring our vision, using everything we know to stay together.
We release our stories into the open, releasing our memories into the confines of the funeral home, into the faces staring back at us at the reception hall, into a series of beers, into what seems like a history of long drives and sorrowful trips home. Eventually, even laughter is released.
The dead are then released from this mortal coil, sent off into wherever, free from pain, free from stress and free from every trouble they once had.
In a truly literal sense, they’re free of life. And life, as one of the greatest burdens we will ever face, wrought with decisions and littered with confusion, can be like a stone around the neck. When a life is so riddled with pain, so dependant upon medicine that it ceases to function on its own, it can be a true relief to be free of it.
So with that, we wished Dorothy well. Wherever she goes, she’s free of pain. She’s released from her mortal engagements.
And if that’s not a reason for celebration, I don’t know what is.