When my mother died shortly after winter solstice, the longest, darkness night of the year, my family’s life broke open and fell apart. Being a funeral director didn’t make the experience easier. I sleepwalked through neighbours’ murmured condolences, offerings of baked goods and invitations to pubs. Life felt as if I was stumbling through fog. I’d have conversations with people, walk away, and not remember a thing.
During the visitation I took great comfort in seeing our kids laughing and playing with their friends. At the time, the children’s parents didn’t know me or my wife particularly well; they’d come because they knew the sound of our children’s laughter would be a ray of light. When you listen to children at play, you gain perspective; you remember what joy sounds like. At a funeral, the only thing more powerful than love and tears is laughter.
We were showered by kindness as we mourned my mother’s death. The grocery clerk who let my wife and I cut the line because she’d overheard us planning meals for out-of-town houseguests; the neighbours who dropped off food and flowers; the friends who took our kids on play dates; the colleagues who made life easier by assigning “desk jockey” duties so I could get stronger before sitting across from families again.
Until one day, like magic, there came a day when I could think of my mother and not feel a sharp stab of loss in my stomach and throat. I had become strong enough to listen to my mother’s two favourite songs, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” without crying. Rather than bolting out of the room or quickly changing the channel, I listened and smiled.
What a gift to realize that when someone we love dies our love for them, and their love for us, does not die. To know that love is eternal.
Although my suffering has made me a better funeral director — less rushed, more mindful, fierce in my desire to create a safe place for families to grieve — the greatest gift is realizing my mother’s death has made me a kinder, gentler human being.
My mother always told me life was beautiful and kind. It is only now, in the shadow of her absence, I can fully understand what she wanted me to see, and to be. The people who gathered around us when we were grieving showed me what life is like when neighbours become a community, a community becomes a family, a stranger becomes a friend.
As you celebrate the season now and next month, may you celebrate and commemorate the people who’ve inspired you to grow, blossom and shine.