We were provided thirty pages of poems and readings in my funeral celebrant training. The deathling in me sat down with my highlighter, ready to add some new gems to my repertoire. I have lots of go-to quotes and poems as-is, and was eager for more. To my surprise, I made it through about twenty pages before I even took the cap off of my highlighter, having finally found a reading worth (in my opinion) saving. Then, only one more after that. In checking-in with myself as to why I was so off-put by so many of the readings, what rang through was that it was because there was an undercurrent of “shed not a tear,” “I am not gone,” and “life goes on,” among many of the pieces. I will admit that after many pages of content that didn’t resonate, I was (at some point) reading through a lens of bias and criticism.
I have since gone back and read many of the works again, and some aren’t as bad as I originally felt like they were. That being said, I put myself in the position of the folks sitting at a funeral, being presented sentiments of “don’t cry” and “move on.” Personally, they grit on me. I know that not every piece shared in a time of grief is going to be everyone’s cup of tea. While I understand that a lot of people don’t want folks sitting around in black and crying at their funeral, and while I fully support celebrations of life, and requests of “have a party when I’m gone,” my concern is that it’s as if we are saying “grief doesn’t have a place at this table.”
Saying that we shouldn’t be sad when someone we love dies, is a disservice at best, and grief-stifling at worst. As a Celebrant, I welcome fun-loving memories, humor, and humility being woven through my services. I want people at said services to feel open to a good ugly-cry, while laughing through the snot and tears. It’s about finding the balance. It’s a delicate dance. Saying “I don’t want you to cry for me” devalues the love that your people had for you, and the holes left in their hearts in your absence. I strive to hold space for both the tears, and the laughter. The joy and the pain.
I’ve been to celebrations of life where I felt like I couldn’t, or shouldn’t cry. Sure, I could save my tears for private moments and save face for the celebration, but part of the value of gathering in community is to feel the waves of emotion, together…to have someone to hug and hold…to have someone reflect back to us that, yes, this sucks. Majorly. Of course we can laugh. Of course we can joke. But I want there to be space for the tears, too, lest we not stuff grief down where, as Martin Prechtel says, it petrifies. Purge, my dears. Let the grief move. Move up, and out. “Where there is deep grief, there was deep love.” So, celebrate! Celebrate love! Celebrate the life lived! Say their name! But, weep and wail when you need to. Because that is love, too.
Funeral Blues by W.H Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.