This week I attended the funeral of a good friend’s wife. It brought back so many memories of my husband’s funeral, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we express and suppress our emotions. I should preface this post by saying that I am only writing about my experience. After all, there are so many factors that will influence the way you express or suppress your grief. These factors include your culture, religion, family traditions, the messages you received about grief as you grew up, and how expressive you are as an individual. I believe that all of these things combined will affect your behavior and your thought processes under the strain of grief.
The Value of Gathering Together
Prior to my husband’s funeral, I wondered how I would handle all of the people. I have social anxiety and struggle to make small talk. As the funeral approached, though, I wanted more than anything to be with people who knew what a great man my husband was. I wanted somehow to share my grief and know that I wasn’t alone in this loss.
The kids and I discussed what a blessing the funeral would be. We would hopefully hear stories about Dan from people who valued him. My daughter Sam had a wonderful experience with her math teacher, who happened to have been Dan’s math teacher once upon a time, as well. After class, he shared stories of Dan—how he was a young boy. Sam came home after that and said it was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for her. So, we were prepared by the time the day of the funeral arrived—but also, we weren’t.
The Day of My Husband’s Funeral
Let me take you back to May 5th, 2019, the day of my husband’s funeral. I walked into the church and saw the casket in which he laid, up at the front of the sanctuary. My heart skipped a beat as my mind went back to another day when my husband was waiting for me at the end of a center aisle. He was so far off and yet I could see the tears form in his eyes as he watched me step into the chapel with my dad to my left. We were both so full of hope and ideals. We had the world by its tail.
Back in the present moment,
I was anxious to see him. Like times past when we’d been apart, we looked forward to being together again. But there would be no bliss in this reunion. My heart sank. Still, my feet carried me much faster than I realized. I arrived at his side and saw it was really him.
He wore the same smile he’d acquired the moment he died. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t that smile. It was a reminder that he was in a far different place than I was. The gap seemed to widen between us, somehow.
Friends Began to Arrive
I was so touched by each person who came. There were so many people that I wasn’t able to greet them all. I felt bad about that. My dear sister-in-law kept encouraging me to sit, but with each new person that approached, I wanted to hug them, to be close to them. They had life in them. And me, I felt as though something inside of me died along with my husband.
Later, just as we were lined up to process into the sanctuary as a family, someone said that my father-in-law was unwell. The word “heart-attack” was whispered. Dan’s illness and death had put a tremendous strain on his parents. I raced up the stairs to where he was receiving medical attention. I prayed the whole time for him to be okay.
Our dear friend Sharon played the piano during that time, as people waited patiently while we took care of my father-in-law. Thankfully my father-in-law was okay. The EMT’s said he could stay if he remained calm and in a wheelchair, and promised to go to the emergency department when the funeral was over.
Proceeding with My Husband’s Funeral
Now, together, we made our way to the front of the sanctuary. I avoided looking at people. That became my goal. Inside my mind, I repeated, “Keep it together. Just keep it together.” We were seated. I knew that I was directly in front of my father-in-law. I wanted so much to look back at him, to see how he was doing, but I sat stoic, looking ahead with all of my determination to be unmoved for the next hour.
In the distance, I heard a woman crying loudly. It was the sound of my heart. I envied her for her honest emotional appeal. That was how I felt inside, yet I felt like it was my duty was to stay quiet and still, to hold back my tears and endure. Why was that?
The Funeral was Beautiful
It was just what Dan would have liked. The eulogies were so perfect. Each one told part of who he was. Then, in the middle of the funeral, I remembered the bagpipes. That was what Dan wanted most of all. He wanted a real bagpipe player to play “Amazing Grace” as we left the sanctuary. We hired one, but I never saw him that day. What if he forgot, or couldn’t find the church? Even if he was there, would he know when and where to play? I became preoccupied with this as the funeral progressed to the end.
Then I heard it, those clear notes, air compressed through pipes, so beautiful and strong. We rose to watch Dan’s casket move down the aisle. As I led the procession I kept my eyes fixed on his casket. In those last moments, as we moved to the hearse, I didn’t look at anyone, but in the corner of my eye, I saw the bagpiper. Dan would have been so pleased.
It was my job to return to the church to begin the luncheon. I found it difficult to leave Dan. I know that in that casket was only his tent, temporary for this world. But it was a beautiful tent and it was mine. I can still remember his arms around me, our fingers intertwined as we held hands, his tender kisses. I miss him more than words can express.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
There is so much more that could be said about this, but I will leave that up to you, my readers. Tell me your thoughts in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!
Plus, keep an eye out for the 2nd Edition of Facing Cancer as a Friend, Coming Soon!
In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
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I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker