I went to a funeral mass this morning. It's a perfectly gothic day here in Baltimore: gray, laced with a chill. There should be a chill in the air, considering it's January. In fact, it should be more than chilly. It should be downright bitter.
Sidenote: what's up climate change? You're going to force me into the no-you-cannot-wear-shorts-to-school argument with my 8-year-old son in January? I don't normally engage in that battle until March. Jerk. (Climate change is the jerk. Not my son. He's lovely.)
Anyway, the service was for my cousin's wife's mother. I didn't know her very well; I'd only met her about a dozen times in my life. I know, I know. You're wondering why I would go to a funeral for someone I didn't know very well.
It's down to this: I always go to the funeral*. If I skip a celebration like a graduation or a wedding, it's okay, because it's a safe bet that it won't be the last celebration in that person's life. There'll be baby showers, birthdays, First Communions, retirements, etc., down the road.
But a funeral? That's it. Done. Terminus.It's where I disembark from my normal day-to-day to show I care, that the dearly departed -- and those she left behind -- matter. And even though I didn't know her very well, I am very friendly with my cousins. I used to babysit their kids. My son interviewed them for a school project. We belong to the same church, and see each other pretty frequently.
So, I went to the funeral.
It was lovely, as those things go. And extremely well-attended. Before I could even get into the chapel, people started squeezing out of the side doors. I thought it was a Play-Doh Fun Factory situation. I was kind of right: the church staff made the decision to move the mass to the main church because we all simply wouldn't fit in the chapel.
My funeral policy is not the only reason I went, though.
Cancer came for this much-loved mother, just as came for mine. The whole morning was very dredgy, emotionally speaking. I saw my cousin's wife, sitting up at the front, in her black dress. In her, I saw myself. Little wonder I identify with her. Not only did our mothers pass in the same way, but around the same time of year. My mother was interred two years and ten days ago.
And so, another person has been inducted into this awful sorority. I went to support my cousin's wife. I wanted to convey that this isn't fair, that her mother deserved more time, and that's all there is to it.
Some honesty: I hate the silver linings, the platitudes, the "help" that people try to give those who have just suffered a loss. She's in a better place... She's not suffering... Yes. Of course. It is absolutely better that she is not in pain, that she is no longer enduring a long and winding loss of dignity and self. I'm begging the world at large, though: can't we all just acknowledge that IT SUCKS when your mother dies, and leave it at that?
Here's what was true for me, and I think may be true for others: the only hope to offer someone who has lost a loved one to an eviscerating illness is that the worst is over. People think that the death is the worst. Emphatically, no. Death is hard, I'll give you that. I miss my mother all the time. I'm still building my new normal, my new vision of what the future will be. It's tough.
But, I maintain that the time just before the dying is the worst. The constant anxiety about... Everything. Medication. White blood cells. Did the chemo work? Is her breathing too fast? Am I sick? Are my kids sick? I hope I don't get her sick. Is she wobbly? I need to help her take a bath. She's going back to the ER because she needs a transfusion. Is today the day? Are we okay? Have I left anything unsaid?
Once the waiting is over, you can figure out what your next move is instead of waiting for it to unfold all over you.
*The only funeral I've ever missed was the memorial service for my husband's grandparents, and I still wish I could have gone. It didn't work out, though. We had two small kids at the time, and our choices were to take them with us and have them (likely) disrupt the service, or have me stay home with them so that my husband could spend time bonding with family and remember his grandparents without distraction. I chose the latter.