Although how we say goodbye to the dead has evolved and varies from culture to culture, the need is as old as time, as is the belief that there is an afterlife. Even Neanderthals placed flowers in the hands of the dead before they sealed the bodies in caves 300,000 years ago. Memories rush in, clouded by love and grief, and although it is past too late, we appreciate them more when they are out of our reach forever. Honoring the ones we’ve lost cauterizes our wound, and we accept that the ceremony is for us, the living. It sets us on the path to healing, our cries resembling a release valve on an overflowing well of hurt. Living there for a few hours reminds us that death is the great equalizer and for a time we hold our living loves closer, sometimes afraid of the randomness of death, oftentimes aware of how brief even a long life is.
The days of public displays of the dead are waning, thank God, replaced by memorial services and “celebrations of life”. We turn to God, even if it is the only time we do so, for comfort and hope that our loved ones live on. You may shy away from reading this, grief being among the hardest emotions and certainly one we want to avoid. It is also common ground for every person that was ever born. January is to me what April was to T.S. Elliot. Time dulls the edges, but I hold tight to my deepest grief because it is all I have left of my son. It is mine and this public declaration is unusual to say the least. I know death makes people uncomfortable and talk of it is to be avoided, especially when we are years away from a tragedy. One of the changes I’ve experienced in this decade is that I am becoming increasingly transparent and immune to other’s expectations.
We attended a memorial service last week for Dale, an uncommon character and dear friend of my parents’. I was moved when the preacher said that Dale loved to tease, or as his wife Sue put it, “agitate”. It seems more respectful to remember him as he was. Dale’s agitation came with rewards, however, such as his outlandish stories about inventing the computer, the internet, and a multitude of other modern conveniences. He was a Navy Seal deep diver (for real) when decompression was unheard of and his heart paid the price. Only Dale would consider his chainsaw as a remedy for the dozens of situations he employed it for. He made us laugh and was an overly generous man. We received a thank-you card from his wife yesterday that asked us to remember our good times with Dale. We will.