Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I went to a funeral today. The woman who passed died of a virulent form of cancer that she contracted in June.  I went with a work colleague who had also been introduced to my boss by her.  Because of her both of us have jobs. I wanted to pay my respects, she had always been kind to me.

Her best friend spoke during the short ceremony, and spoke of all the memorial services they had been to together for friends in the 1980s.  They had become a regular occurrence. I can only imagine his grief at saying goodbye to a friend he'd known for over three decades.  He played a song they played at those memorials, sung by a famous singer I've met. Her nephew coincidentally works in my group.

To make the world even smaller, a friend who sells plots at that cemetery remembered the woman who was being buried, remembered working with her on her mother's memorial stone as it had been unique. She was sad to hear of her passing, and enjoyed working with her.  I don't know why I take comfort in all these connections, but I do.

We drove to the top of the hill to inter the body into a wall.  The small pine coffin was set to go into a large marble wall, adjacent to her parents. In lieu of dirt, the man who had been her closest friend gave out white roses for people to place on the casket. He struggled with the thorns. A much older woman who had been her neighbor stood up to read a poem about ship, which meant a lot to her.  The man who was her best friend passed out sheets of paper with a poem he wanted to hand out and read as well. When they handed it out I read it. I can't have a piece of text in my hand and not read it. I couldn't follow, couldn't comprehend. It felt as inconsequential as the paper it was printed on.

Any grief brings to the forefront the losses one has already suffered. The pain is universal, the moment specific. The moment is universal, the pain specific. It bleeds into other memories until it encompasses what's around it.  Tears sharpen colors; you are aware of the ground you are standing on. What is mundane falls away in the face of a universal truth.

The man read the poem, which had also been a favorite in the 80s.  The poet had died young, full of unfulfilled promise. He was overcome for a moment. I could feel his pain reading this particular poem at the service for someone with whom he had survived, with whom he had a long shared history. Someone who was taken unexpectedly, and too young.  He was a survivor of cancer himself.   I've known people who have survived, and those who haven't. It is impossible.

A girl standing next to me dropped her water bottle and giggled from embarrassment with her mother, with whom she had been crying moments before.  Grief knocks up against laughter somehow; any relief is welcome.  The group placed roses on the pine box and it was elevated and lifted into the sepulcher.  We watched as two workmen pushed the body to where it would rest on the wall.

A man I know was asked to recite the mourner's kaddish, which he recited it in English. The prayer, said at most services for those remembering lost loved ones, is about the magnificence of God, the praise to him. A blessing and piece for all, for Israel. The words felt inconsequential.  I mouthed what I knew of the Aramaic original under my breath, wanting to hear that rhythm. Thankfully, someone asked for the man from the cemetery to speak it in the original language. Perhaps because I know it well, I get some sense of comfort from it, the intonations, the parts led and those spoken together.

Grief is too big.  Words are drops of rain on a roof. We can't not speak, but we can't wholly define the ineffable enormity of what we are feeling.  We keep trying.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Beautiful post.

I'm sorry for this loss --