By Adele R. Haas
Going to a funeral is not easy for any of us. Deciding to attend , starts with, are you a family member, is it in town, how well do you know the deceased or their family , will your absence/presence matter to anyone ? Will driving be a problem? Did you learn by phone , or after reading the obituary pages in the Buffalo News? and then it's, "oh no, not another one, but I should go" ,and you do.
And then, what do you say? Will being there make a difference, even if you don't know anyone ?. A very strong feeling of needing to connect draws you to being there. a need to accept this reality, an opportunity to share the grief, the sorrow and the joys of this person who is now gone. it is all a part of being human.
What the family needs from you, is your presence, and it is your presence which let's them know that someone cares. It is your presence that tells them that you think this life mattered and it is your show of respect by being there which helps them . No one wants to be forgotten, no one wants their loved one to go unnoticed at the end.
The rituals of mourning have changed as society has changed. With cremation as a choice, the timing of how and when we mourn together is no longer the same .Donations to favorite charities are given instead of flowers.. Families are often scattered in many states, and of course the weather plays into the how and when of what is done.
We all fear that our parents will die one day, and worry how we will cope in a world without them .and then, unfortunately, one day, you find out. Until my Dad passed away, I dreaded going to wakes. What could words do to help . But I found out firsthand that there is a reason for ritual which can bring healing and comfort. and when you don't know what to do, there is a precedent to follow .
At my Dad's wake it was so helpful to learn about his early years. During the Depression, the times were hard for many, jobs were scarce, money, even more so. I heard from neighbors who described a young man starting out in his own business. He would put food purchases "on the books" when they had no cash, and slip something extra in the bag (no charge) knowing that there were hungry youngsters at home ,a generous man of compassion
He was someone I had taken for granted because he was just my Dad. Those who came to the wake came to honor a man who helped so many . I, only knew him as a father. He was 37 when I was born, he had experiences and a life before. They told of a young, eager, hard working good neighbor,a jokester, a talented tenor in the choral group, an eager student, a whiz with numbers a conscientious businessman,, a loyal son, brother, cousin, best man at a wedding ,and a good, good friend with a teasing sense of humor who just loved to laugh. Wow, my Dad. I was so pleased to know these sides of him, I was so proud and grateful When I think of him , those stories warm my heart. I finally knew then, how comforting a wake could be, it can be a time of discovery and sharing , not of gloom and only sadness.
We need each other when life hurts. We need to connect when a connection is broken. It is being a part of a bigger picture, of giving respect, of knowing you are not alone.
Life is for sharing, beginning and end.
Adele R. Haas and her husband live in a retirement community in Amherst. They are grateful for their many friends and family, past and present.