Gratitude for a Funeral

by Tracey Rich

We buried my mother this past July, just eight of us standing under a tent in the early morning, steamy, southern rain. There were tears and hugs. We said prayers and lifted heavy shovels of fresh dirt, two at a time, upon opposite ends of Mom's simple, pine casket that had been laid in the earth. The sense of holding the weight of that shovel still remains in my arms, as does the feeling of communion in passing the shovel to my next of kin, patiently waiting their turn. 

When we left the cemetery, we tiptoed around the graves of our ancestors and community members so our heels didn't get stuck in the soggy ground, tears mingling with the rain. It was hard to leave the comfort of that familiar place where our father and grandparents lay, now accompanied by the woman they had all loved so dearly.

I miss my mother every, single day.

When I look at the daily headlines of the losses from the virus, each number representing a human being, I am struck with gratitude for the funeral we had. Such a normal ritual of our lives expressed the world over, this important ceremony of grieving love lost. And yet, not today. Not for so many. Not for a while. The sadness I feel for those not able to share in this rite weighs on my heart like the weight at the end of the shovel that hot, July morning.

We drove from the cemetery to a house of worship. It was good to gather with friends and those who came to share our loss. To have gotten to kiss and hug without fear or second thoughts now seems like a luxury. To have gotten to hold hands, offer a Kleenex, or reach out seems a glorious indulgence looking back. To stand before the community in which you grew up and speak of your loved one with humor and intimacy seems now like a declaration of independence and freedom. Oh, how grateful I am for that simple expression we had. I am filled with gratitude for the people who came to gather with us, for the ability to be with my family and to declare our love and loss out loud.

My heart grieves for those who cannot bury their dead in the way they once could. We hold them all in our virtual arms. We see your pain and honor your losses.

Grief does not wait, and yet it does. There will be a time in the not too distant future where we will come together and hold each other. And, we will bear witness for one another, filling in the spaces of our losses.