Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Dressing For the Living

The river shawl

I'm not sure what verb to use to describe this new work I'm doing. 
Do I...
conduct
perform
provide
do
...a funeral? 

I like the word "provide" because I'm using my talents and skills to be in service to someone in need. I am providing support, comfort, guidance, and reassurance on a most difficult day. A day that we dread -- the final goodbye -- but a day that is so important, so vital to our moving from the death and into life after death. 
I base my work on this belief: Done well, a funeral is a strong and essential memory that, over time, helps us heal the wound of loss and the ache of that wound. 

So, last Friday morning, I provided a graveside service for the family and friends of a man who passed way after a sudden, and brief, illness. His wife is a member of my church congregation, and someone who makes a point of messaging me with words of gratitude and encouragement. 
My turn to provide encouragement and comfort to her. 
I was honoured she asked me to do the service, and grateful she trusts me and my words. 
Now, the interesting part of doing funerals is what to wear? For a minister, it's the same outfit for every event: black pants, black shirt, white collar. But for me, I have to think hard about the image I present. 

This is how I was raised: That appearances matter and one should look professional. 
This is what I believe: Dressing nicely and being well-groomed is a sign of respect. We are a visual species -- we judge what we see, even before someone opens their mouth -- so dressing well tells others I take my work, and myself, seriously. I'm not an ordained minister so this provides me with credibility.   
Respect for the dead, and respect for the grieving. 

Since it was a sunny but cool morning and we were outside, in this town that a river runs through, I chose my white swallow dress and wore the river pattern shawl my friend Kerry knitted as a 50th birthday present. It gave me comfort and confidence as well, knowing I'd be facing a grieving woman I consider a friend, and also many people that I know. 

Afterwards, I overhead a woman -- a stranger to me -- say, "That was a lovely service. It was better than any funeral I've been to."
I don't share that out of ego, but out of relief and gratefulness -- because I got it right. It's my reassurance that the service I provided was the right one. That response means someone will think of the service I've provided, and feel good about it, feel better about the passing of their loved one, be comforted in the weeks and months to come by how we honoured their person, how we celebrated their life, and how we said good-bye. 

And it may have been better than any funeral that woman went to, but it certainly wasn't better than my father-in-law's funeral back in July. His funeral was perfect -- perfect for him and his life, perfect for his family, especially for my husband, and perfect for me to study and aspire to, because it was memorable, in its full-on funeral tradition. 

According to poet, author and funeral director, Thomas Lynch, of Michigan: 
"A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be. There's no easy way to do this. So do it right: weep, laugh, watch, pray, love, live, give thanks and praise; comfort, mend, honor, and remember. Grief is the price we pay for being close to one another."

Amen. 


 

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