Monday, March 28, 2016

If I don't attend your funeral, please don't take it personally.......

My cousin died and I didn't go to his funeral. We didn't see each other every day (except for the few years we worked in the same building) nor spend a lot of time together but we did have a dear relationship. We grew up together, experienced fun times together and loved each other very much. I wasn't mad at him, I wasn't out of town, I could've taken time off of work, I knew the time, date and place. I didn't go because I simply chose not to.

He was 44 years young and his death was sudden and unexpected. After the shock of the news wore off, anxiety flowed through my body as thoughts about his funeral service came to mind. 'Oh no, I don't want to go to another funeral!' 'But how could I not go to his funeral?!,' How can I go to his funeral?!,' In the days leading up to the date of his service, my thoughts ping-ponged back and forth. A couple days before my cousin was to be laid to rest, I visited with his mother and siblings. As most funeral gatherings, before and after, turn out to be, it felt like a mini reunion. Various relatives and friends stopped through to offer their condolences, support and helping hand. It amazed me to see his mother talking, smiling and laughing in the midst of what I'm sure was a terrible heartache she was feeling. His sister and brother were quite sociable too but, I could see the pain in their eyes and on their faces. It was then, I knew I wasn't going. Not only did I believe it wouldn't be good for me emotionally but, I did not want to see my cousin lying dead in a casket. I wanted to remember my cousin as the happy guy he was. The guy who always greeted me with a huge smile and big kiss. The guy who had the loud, gregarious laugh. The guy who was 'one of the good ones.'

The first funeral service I remember attending was that of a 10 year old girl who I did not know. My grandmother took me and I don't even think she knew who the little girl was herself. I remember seeing the body in the casket....she was wearing a pretty dress and she was still. I recall asking what happened to the little girl and, if my memory serves me correctly, I was told she died at sleepaway camp. I wasn't scared, freaked out or traumatized. I just remember being sad that a little girl, who was around my age at the time, had died. I never forgot the little girl or that experience.

When I was younger and hadn't experienced a lot of loss, I could attend funerals, shed tears, give hugs, swap memories and share stories. The first time I experienced pure devastation from the loss of a loved one was when my paternal grandmother passed away. I was 17 years old and 8 months pregnant. I vividly remember the day my mother relayed the news to me and my sister. As soon as the words left her mouth, I broke down. Hysterically crying, my sister and I held on to each other for dear life. We cried so hard that we almost made ourselves sick. At my grandmother's funeral was the first time I saw my father cry. My grandmother's death changed our lives and our family in major ways. As difficult as it was, life went on. I attended several wakes and funerals since; those of beloved relatives, good friends, associates and acquaintances. I experienced heart breaking losses; some were bearable, some were not. Emotionally it was draining, mentally exhausting but, for the most part, I recovered well & fairly quickly. I always thought, death is a part of life and it's something we all have to deal with it. When someone dies, you go to their funeral, pay your respects, mourn and move on. I would comfort others, in their time of need and receive the same in my time of need. I believed it to be cold, dismissive and disrespectful to not attend the funeral of a loved one so not going wasn't an option.

That is, until my father died. I was 30 years old when my Dad was hit by a car and succumbed to his injuries 10 days later. The entire experience, from the night he was hit until today, shook me to my emotional core. Saying the words, 'my father died' to literally seeing the blood drain out of his body as he lay in a hospital bed to viewing his lifeless body in a casket was the worst collective experience I ever had to deal with, at that point in my life. Naturally, when experiencing the loss of a loved one, the days immediately following the loss are difficult. Depending on the relationship with the decedent, the recovery period could last anywhere from days to weeks to months or even years. The toll death takes on the surviving family and friends is unpredictable, widely varied and sometimes, life-changing.

It became more difficult for me to attend the funerals of others, after my father died. The purpose of attending someone's funeral service is to pay your last respects, fellowship with others who loved the decedent and pay homage to their memory. After my father's death, I would go to others'  funerals and think about him. I may have wept for the person I was there to honor but, inevitably, my thoughts would turn to memories of my father. I would be heartbroken all over again, remembering my Dad's body in a casket. I would grieve for him at times when I should have been mourning the person whose funeral I was attending. Sometimes, I would be fine after a good cry. Other times, it took me days to get my head back in the game. So, I began to skip people's funeral services, no matter who they were. If I felt I couldn't handle it, I would make up an excuse to not attend. Even though I knew it was in my best interest to not attend, I still felt guilty for not going. Then, my brother died.

My 24 year old brother committed suicide four years ago and his death dealt a crushing blow to our family, collectively and individually. No words can describe the pain, anguish, anger, frustration and heartbreak we still experience on a daily basis. Losing my brother, especially in that manner, broke me all the way down. In addition to several other realizations I have come to since my brother's death, I realized I just can't and I won't do it. There is no way I can attend a funeral without thinking about and crying for my brother. It would be unfair of me to mourn the loss of my brother, focus on my pain and sorrow when I'm supposed to honoring the loss and life of someone else. It would also be unwise for me to put myself through such an emotional wringer when I know how difficult it would be for me to get out of it. So, I made a decision. I will only attend a funeral if my presence is necessary, as a source of strength, peace and calm for the survivors, if I am in a good space, mentally & emotionally and/or it is that of my immediate or very close relative or friend. If I make the choice to not attend someone's funeral, close relationship or not, I will not feel guilty about it nor make excuses for my absence. I cannot and will not worry about how my absence might make others feel. I know it is not because I don't love the deceased or that I don't care about their families or that I don't respect their legacy. It's because, while they are gone on from this life, I still have to live it.

I still have to be able to get through whatever days, weeks, months and years I have left. I want to be my strongest, happiest, most productive, positive, purposeful, best self. In order to do that, I have to practice self-love, self-care, self-preservation. That includes being mindful of how I spend my time, expend my energy and use my resources. If I feel strong enough to attend a funeral, I will do so. If I deem it better for me to show my support in ways other than attending the funeral, I will do that. I am at peace with knowing I showed, gave and shared love to all the people I care about while they were alive. Upon their deaths, I don't know if I will be there to pay my last respects, view the dressed up body, sign the guest book, share memories, break bread or fellowship with the survivors. There is no love lost after death so, if I don't attend your funeral, please don't take it personally.......