Monday, February 24, 2014

Two Funerals, But No Wedding

I am a Jersey girl. A mother -- to a teenager. An educator who retired early with a fairly sketchy Plan B.  I pride myself on being strong and independent.

But today, I just feel fragile.

Last week, I went to two visitations. Memorials for the lives of people I knew and respected. Wives, mothers -- strong women who left behind legacies in the form of children, grandchildren and lives well-lived. They made a mark on the world that was indelible.

And now they are gone.

Events like these leave such mixed feelings. Women I knew as teenagers, now grown and raising families of their own, putting on brave faces and greeting those who've come to pay their respects. Photo collages of the deceased that make us simultaneously smile and tear up, triggering memories of better days when laughter reigned and pain seemed a foreign substance rather than something to be delivered from. The oddly festive feel of long-time friends meeting again and exchanging stories, catching up on one another's lives, sharing memories meant to chase away the anguish.

And the loneliness with guilt-tinged edges that follows mourners as they take their leave. Who are we to speak of these feelings, as we head home or to an appointment or to the store, our lives stirred by the loss, but not shaken like those we've just left, still mourning behind brave faces?

It's a different kind of emptiness. A helplessness to change what has transpired in recent days, or in the more distant past. An inability to remove the pain etched in those brave faces, or to truly comfort those who mourn.

These two losses are neither the only losses my friends have incurred this year, nor are they more important than any other. But coming, as they have, one on the heels of another, their impact is inescapable. They have knocked the wind out of me, reminding me of the brevity of life, and of how quickly our daily lives can adjust our paths into byways that leave us miles away from the places we once held dear.

As we leave these gatherings, we can run -- away from the incongruous smiles of the funeral home staff, the flowers, the photos, the trappings of a life. Onto a path that will lead us out of mourning and into busyness and distraction.

Or we can reach. Back, in an effort to replay the past, and in some way, repair it. Or forward -- toward those still with us -- our families and our friends and those who mourn. We will invite those who have lost to reach for us, but they will not accept, and so we will have to reach for them.

But most important, we can remember. The good we have done and the good we have failed to do, in an effort to do better while there is still time. The life well led, along with the one cut short too soon. The mistakes we have made, so that we can, at the very least, avoid making them again.

In memories, we find comfort. We can remember the time before the pain, the time before the loss. And it is the memory of those times that inspires us to take the time now to pause, reflect. Remember.

Memories can hurt and heal, and they can inspire. If we are wise, we can use our memories to help us to determine our own next steps, the ones that have the power to heal and to share love with those around us. To take advantage of all that we have because we never know for sure when it will be gone.

When we leave these celebrations of life, we need to drive not just away from something, but toward something else -- something of value -- as well.

Because in the end, that is the best respect we can pay, the best tribute we can offer to a life well-lived.

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