09 April 2014

Thoughts on a Funeral

This is a blog prompt I made up that fits under the "Relationships" category. Last week, there were two deaths that hit the Waverly community pretty hard, and it had me thinking a lot about death, loss, family, and support. I chose an essay-collage for this post. My ideas seem to bounce from topic to topic, so I figured that's the best way to write it out. I learned that every person mourns loss differently, and that a death doesn't have to ruin the lives of those left behind.


An Unexpected Occurrence
I experienced a teaching first last week: the death of a student's parent. Granted, this student is graduated and in college, but the relationship we had is a perfect example of why I went into education in the first place. I was her teacher, her coach, and her adviser. She opened up and shared with me about her family. Likewise, she ended up giving my dog her middle name (Penelope, in case you were curious). Even as she left Waverly, I still got to act as her mentor. As fate would have it, she attends the same college I teach a weekly night class at. We were, in a word, close.

And then her mom died.

It was sudden.
It was completely unexpected.
And it was gut-wrenching.

Natural Order
It's only natural for children to bury their parents. Parents are, after all, quite a few years older than their offspring. My dad buried his dad just over a year ago. My fathers-in-law buried a father and a mother just a few months before that. The fathers in my life each lost a parent.

The loss was expected. These elderly individuals were old--in their late 70s and early 80s. They were sick and suffering--stroke, cancer, broken neck, dementia. In many ways, their passing was tantamount to a merciful blessing. The pain and suffering and sadness were all gone.

That didn't mean it didn't hurt for these sons to bury one of their parents.

All the same, it was still expected.

An Unexpected Reaction
Most people would expect a teenager in her first year of college to be devastated at the sudden passing of a parent. 

Heck, I'd have been an inconsolable mess. 

And what's more, not one decent human being on the planet would fault her, or anyone, for being a bit of a mess.

That's why her reaction is all the more incredible.

Along with her sisters, this brave young person planned her mother's funeral, made arrangements with the family, and acted as adults at visitations, greeting family and friends and unknowns.

Instead of fishing for sympathy by posting vague status updates to social media, she used the open forum to relate the positive stories about her mom.

Instead of embracing the dark, drab, dreary culture of funerals, these amazing girls hosted a celebration of life for their mom. They asked guests to come dressed in their brightest colors to honor a woman who brightened up a room.

What's more, they spoke to the scores of guests at the funeral service, reading from a book their mom read to them. Without a hint of tears and with the poise of a competitive speaker, she boldly read the poem about nature and beauty and God.

As her former speech coach, I felt a little bit of pride.

As a fallible human being, I felt incredulous. How could someone so young, enduring such heartache, be so brave?


A Rainbow of Reactions
A few students sat with me at the funeral service. I felt like a really awkward Mama Duck leading in a hodgepodge of college freshmen and high schoolers down the aisle of the church to our seat clear out on the side. All the same, we were there to support her as a family.

We're not blood family, obviously. As a group, we haven't been around and known each other since birth.

But in all the ways that makes family family, we were family.

Some of us wept bitter tears of sadness that stung cheeks and reddened eyes.

Some of us clammed up tight, eyes cast down, voices barely audible.

Some of us were bold and loud, a mass of flailing arms reaching for someone to hug.

Some of us were smiling rays of sunshine, boasting a near-future that would be filled with joyous memories to fill the void left behind.

Each person was a unique ball of grief and sympathy as uncommon and authentic as a thumbprint.

An Unexpected Revelation
My heart grieved for my former student. While I didn't know her mom well, my heart broke for the pain I could only imagine she must have felt.

Her bravery and dry eyes made me feel like that bleeding, trembling heart in my chest broke unnecessarily. 

Of course she was hurting. 
Of course she misses her mother.
Of course she had tears.

But this wondrous young woman was mourning an equally wondrous mother that raised her to love others, to see the bright side of every dark cloud, to work hard and do what needs to be done, and to live a wonderful, worthwhile life.

She doesn't need a broken heart of empathy.

She needs strong friends and family to help her live the life her mother intended for her to live. She needs to be able to relive the wonderful times through stories and laughter.

With a wisdom beyond her age, this young lady learned how to live life in a world with indiscriminate death.

Would that we all could react the same.