I approached the doors to the funeral home to find a young staff waiting with a thermal scan aimed in my direction. I leaned in slightly and on gaining her nod of approval of my afebrile status, was ushered forward to share my personal info with the woman behind the plexiglass window. This was my first celebration of life during these unusual and confusing times.
And it changed me.
Moving to the left I found myself staring into a space where seating was paired, two side to side with six feet to the next set, on both sides and behind. The stagger of the chairs bewildered me for just a moment, due in part I suppose to my expectation of how this should be. I stood there glancing about the room, not certain what to do in the absence of a grieving family standing to greet those who were there to pay respects to their loved one. I will admit to a pang of panic in not quite knowing what was expected of me in that moment. My husband indicated the familiar face of the Reverend officiating and I found myself steered in her direction with some relief that I could comfortably stand close without fear that I was encroaching on a bubble I didn’t belong to. The presence of another known friend found me taking the seats that sat six feet behind his own. The arrival of the widower permitted me my need to reach out, to return the requested hug and to share my sorrow at the loss of his beautiful spouse. I will admit that I have never been a fan of the family greeting line; to me they force the grieving into a position of accepting touch and comfort in a time when they are most fragile and at risk of shattering. It was a surreal realization for me to suddenly recognize that despite my distaste of the typical practice, I still stood there seeking its tradition.
Taking my seat once again, I glanced about the room finding only eyes to greet me, the masks dutifully drawn to the bridge of the nose, glasses perched and clouded or raised to sit on the head to clear the vision of the breath that steamed it. I felt that I had landed in a different place, a different time with a brand new set of rules of both behavior and engagement. I peered into the eyes of the older lady seated six feet to my right and smiled quickly realizing she wasn’t aware that I had done so at all. I felt sad in that moment that we had missed the opportunity to meet on that smile. Perhaps she had smiled my way also, and I missed it too.
My dear friend the Reverend stood to take her place at the podium, and I fell silent to listen to her words. As she moved through her eulogy, and the children stood to speak, I was quite stunned to find myself reaching up to wipe away tears that have never come easily to me. I am not that person. I am not that crier; I share in painful expressions of loss and pain on a daily basis, making this a highly unusual occurrence. I sniffed deeply back to pull it together and immediately found myself right back to tears dampening the cloth that covered whatever facial expression existed beneath it. I could feel the familiarity of the trembling lips, the attempt to then pull the lip between my teeth, as if that motion could stop the flow of fluid now freely escaping my lower lids. But this time the attempt ended in failure.
And then it hit me.
My mask had afforded me the vulnerability to be honest. Yes, I was pulled into the stirrings of emotions listening to a family share stories about a wife, mom and grandmother whom I respected deeply for her love of life despite her egregious health battles, yet a woman I hadn’t been blessed to know well at all. Her story and her fight to live shared over social media by her loving husband whom I knew well enough to be honored to be asked to share in the celebration of her well lived story.
In the short time that followed, I allowed myself to both partake in the words I was hearing, and in the thoughts of the losses I had encountered myself over the year(s) that just passed. With eyes dampened in tears, and the stain of eyeliner marking the trail, I glanced again around the room and found a comforting reality that I was not at all alone. Without the expressions to guard the tears, the tears were more truthful than I have ever witnessed. I felt each one, and became part of a whole in a way I could have never imagined possible. In those moments I permitted myself to feel the discomfort of all that has changed around me, all that has changed within me, and to grieve all that will never or cannot ever… be returned to me.
During a 45 minute celebration of life, I cried for the year(s) that I lost. The year(s) that we lost. Seated hidden beneath my mask, I bade farewell to the experience of what once felt real and felt a stir of hope that something better will fill the holes that these losses have left behind.
Behind my mask I found my pain, and I gave it permission to leave me. My wish for you is that you find your own, that you allow yourself to let it free to absorb into a piece of fabric that protects the vulnerability beneath. My wish for us all is that on the day that this ends, that we can turn new and beautiful faces to the sunshine.
My hope is that you find yourself immersed in the opportunity to understand and know yourself entirely before these strange times come to an end. My hope is that you find solace enough beneath the mask to give truth to what you grieve.
There is no joy to be found in the heavy loss of precious life during these present times.
But there is joy ahead for those that will understand why we have shared this together.
No one can see your lips trembling. Go ahead and grieve.
With love and light