on grieving

Fuck funerals. I (mercifully) hadn’t been to one since my former boss, Senator John Chafee, died in 1999. I worked for him. I respected him. But I wasn’t his friend. And there’s something different about the death of someone at the end of their life than someone so clearly in the middle of it.

Angelika had so much energy left in her that I didn’t know what to expect at her service today. Well, I knew I’d cry. I knew that I’d pass on the viewing. A body is just a body once the spirit has moved on elsewhere.

I wasn’t surprised to see a broad congregation of mourners. She was so much to so many different people.

But I was surprised to not recognize a soul.

How strange to be among scores of mourners and not know a single person. Oh, I knew immediately when her dear son Christopher walked in the room that he was indeed the man I’d heard so much about. I knew her husband was her husband before he was introduced. I’d been hearing stories about them for many years. I knew the details of their family vacations. I knew her son had a chemistry set when he was a little boy. I knew her granddaughter asked her to bring apple juice as a treat on her last visit to Amsterdam.

Her mother read a psalm in their native German. Her sister and daughter-in-law concurrently read the German and English translations of a favorite poem. Her son and husband choked back tears during their very heartfelt tributes. And through it all, it was clear to me that this room of people all carry the spirit of Angelika within them. Within us.

Thank god for the box of tissues in the pew.

By the time I made my way out at the service, I couldn’t contain the sobs. And I went right on not containing those sobs straight into the arms of Angelika’s patient husband at the head of the receiving line.

He held me with a strength that I was accustomed to in Angelika. He let me cry. I mumbled something about his wife being very special to me. He didn’t push me away or hurry me along so he could move on to soothing the rest of the mourners. He held tighter and just let me cry. Was it one minute or five? I don’t recall exactly. As I pulled away, he invited me to come to their house for a private reception afterwards, but I made my excuses. I felt I had imposed enough.

That’s the crazy thing about grief. It’s selfish, but it’s genuine. It’s all-consuming. It’s fucked up. This poor man lost his wife of 26 years and he’s the one comforting me? But part of her lives in him now, just as part of her lives in me. And that practically makes us family. At least, for a brief moment today, that is what it felt like.


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