On Dying and Funerals

A month ago or so, I watched Guardians of the Galaxy with my kids. The movie opens pretty bleakly, with the main character shown as a young boy in a hospital. His mother is dying of cancer. She sits in a hospital room, bald and frail and surrounded by grieving family. Her son is brought to her, and they have a tearful scene where she asks him to take her outstretched hand. He refuses, and she pleads again.

And then dies, all at once. The heart rate monitor goes monotone, and she’s gone. Here’s the scene. See for yourself:

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Hollywood would show idealized versions of death scenes, but this past weekend was my first real encounter with what an actual death vigil is like. Perhaps it’s different for others. Perhaps there are occasions where Hollywood gets it right.

But it didn’t this time.

Death is incredibly hard and difficult. It involves sleepless nights. Uncertainty. Despair. You go from wanting the person to stay with you and have as much time as possible to being convinced they’re going to pass at any moment. But they don’t. Hours and days go by, and you realize there was so much further to go.

Part of me really wishes this were talked about more. Perhaps it would have prepared me for what was coming. I certainly scoured the internet once I was in the middle of it all. Trying to figure out what to expect and how it would all play out. I get why it isn’t discussed. Death can be frightening enough without people going around saying just how miserable of a process it can be. Even in this post, I’m shying away from really discussing it. Putting it down in written form would be a way of reliving it, and I have no desire to do that again. Even though I know I most likely will at some point in my life.

Actually, the thing it reminded me most of was a birth. How nature is suddenly in complete control, and you wish you could have some sort of an influence over any of it, but you’re just kind of helpless, waiting for things to take their course.

Of course, it’s not over once death has arrived. This trip has been so tough in so many different ways. We arrived Thursday in time for us to say goodbye, and then we were here at the house with our kids Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning as Laurie passed away. Then there was planning for the viewing and the funeral, and of course the actual events themselves.

I understand why they’re important, but those two meetings just about did me in. I can’t imagine how difficult they were for my father. I’m a person who doesn’t even like going to the barber’s, because I don’t like making small talk with people. The viewing Tuesday night was three and a half hours of standing in a line, shaking hands with people and thanking them for coming and for their support. Then there was another hour before the funeral. If death was like birth, the funeral is definitely like a wedding, only so much sadder.

I’m not trying to complain about any of this. Just trying to wrap my head around everything that’s been happening the last few days. The viewing and the funeral were both lovely. The talks were poignant and inspiring. The burial service touching. But it’s all been so. hard. I was asked to give the family prayer right before the funeral, and I just about lost it during that. But you can’t just break down into a sobbing wreck. At least I can’t.

And of course my children are with us through this all. Tomas and DC are both old enough to know what’s happening. MC still doesn’t really understand why Grandma isn’t coming back, though she’s now worried that she’ll die the next time she gets sick. And she can see everyone else being so sad, and it definitely rubs off on her.

I had hoped there would be a feeling of completion after the funeral. That I’d be able to move on. I’d been able to do that with most of the other funerals I’ve been through. They were times I could visit with loved ones, reminisce on times gone by. But I found out there’s a big difference between attending a viewing as family and attending one as one of the people who were close enough to the departed to mean that you’re standing in the line greeting people.

Some holes are just too deep to be filled so quickly, and some wounds can’t help but leave a scar.

This last week will leave a permanent mark on me and my family. I told Denisa last night that I probably have a fair bit more gray in my beard after yesterday. I hope and pray that I don’t have to go through anything like that again any time soon.

Thank you to everyone who came and all who have offered support, whether in person or on social media. It does help. It’s been so nice to see everyone again. I just wish it were under better circumstances.

And I suppose that’s all I’m going to say about that for now.

4 thoughts on “On Dying and Funerals”

  1. Karla Burkhart

    It was hard and it was healing. There is no right or wrong way to handle the loss of someone so wonderful. She will always be a part of life. I appreciate your analogy of a wedding. There is a bit of both joy and sadness is both events. Nice to see you in person.

  2. Olga Plasilova

    Bryce, thanks for writing this…..I think I understand very well. I was 32 when my beloved father passed away and I was the last one to be with him 2 hours before he died in the local hospital where I found him under circumstances that a close person to the one dying does not like to see ( lack of attention of the staff, whom,ironically , my father has always liked ) . My heart was bleeding as I walked home from the hospital realizing this was most likely the last time spent with my father. However at least I was able to “wake up” the doctor and nurses and make them act. Too late…….for me as if life ended up then, at least for a while…………..When my mom was passing away 15 years later and I was the one to spend with her the last years of her life, I was much more ready and much more mature to accept the sad reality. As we grow older and strive to live righteous lives, we develop stronger ability to accompany our dear ones to the place called Eternity.

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