I went to a funeral last week in one of the most beautiful places in San Francisco. I’ve written about the columbarium before — I’ve visited it many times — but this was the first time I’ve been there for the purpose for which it was intended.
The dead man was the husband of a friend of mine, father to a daughter the same age as my own. I didn’t know him well, but I love his wife, so I went to the celebration of his life. It was perfect: a slide show, a board with stories from his life, cards made by his daughter’s classmates, a table with portrait photos of him and the urn with his ashes.
Their daughter came over to say hi. I told her my daughter sent her love. Then I asked, “Are you on spring break this week?”
“No,” she said. “I’m skipping school today.”
I could tell she was troubled by the forbidden aspect of it, so I said gently, “I think you have a good reason.”
Her face froze and she nodded, then dodged off before I could apologize. Oh, well done, I thought. You made a child cry at her father’s funeral. I tried to imagine anything I might have said that wouldn’t have reminded her of her loss, but I came up blank.
Remembering my brother’s funeral, almost 12 years ago now, and how I could barely speak for grief, I forgave myself, because really there are no magic words that make the loss stop hurting. There is no making it better. The person you love is gone forever and your love has nowhere to go, so it turns on you and hurts you. All you can do is keep going on, treasuring your memories and slowly, slowly, let your loved one go.
For all that I write about graveyards and their denizens, I haven’t found any wisdom with which to comfort others. We die, but life goes on. This young girl will grow up, fall in love, travel, find work, live a rich and full life, but she has lost something she will never get back: her innocence, her sense of security, her daddy’s love. Around her, the Columbarium was filled with beauty and fascinating stories. Outside, the day was perfect: a flawless blue sky, 65 degrees, green grass, bright sun, birdsong. I’m sure she didn’t even see that.
I walked back to my car, inarticulate with emotion. I hadn’t lost anything today, but I could see the future so clearly: the deaths of my parents, my friends, maybe my husband although he’s sworn never to die. I have been lucky to have only lost my brother and my grandparents so far. I think growing up is not buying a house, or having a child, or pursuing a career. For me, it means learning to face all the loss to come.
I have so much to learn.
After I went to the service, I found this link on twitter. It’s advice on how to support someone who is grieving. I think I will turn to it often as my friend survives her loss.