Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

After the Funeral, There is the Quiet






Today I’m thinking about Emily Rapp’s experience after her infant son Ronan died at the age of three, as well as about people I loved who died in April — my wife Evelyn twelve years ago; John’s wife Anne, thirteen; and Judy’s husband John, fifteen. I hold them in my heart, along with those I don’t know who also lost loved ones this month. This month of death continues to make us moody, even snarly, years later.

After the funeral, Emily will come home to a quiet place. Friends will continue to drop by to chat and see how she is doing, but there will be fewer of them because some people are more comfortable with the dying than they are with death. With the dying there is something you can do. Many who came to support her as death drew near will withdraw.

Others will continue to come but themselves or with one other person instead of in groups. They will invite her out for yoga, a walk or dinner, and she may go. The diversion from home will be good, although she may not feel like it today, and maybe not for a while because what she did to stay strong for Ronan now seems pointless.

They will bring food, wash dishes, and help her with chores. They will ask questions and listen to her hesitant responses as she searches the air for partial answers. By watching her, they will learn what it is to mourn a child.

They will feel the anger and rage. They will fear the despair that is descending. When they don’t know what else to do, when the roughness of words have rubbed themselves into the dust of nonsense syllables, they will sit in silence beside her and let their presence surround a heart that is breaking. 

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When you come home after the funeral or memorial service of a loved one, as you begin to put away their possessions and box up their clothes, the quietness will hit you. Someone you love is gone forever.

You knew this before, of course, in your head, but now you feel the leadened truth of it in your heart, and it feels primal, raw, and too much to bear. But you bear it because there is no other option. Sometimes the despair will be so great that you will wonder how you will ever survive it.

As hard as it is to be alone with this stark reality, you want to be alone with this. You want to strengthen the sinews of the bonds that held you to each other so that they don’t fray apart. You want to proclaim to all who can hear that they mattered to you and you will not ever forget them. The silence around you creates space for this.

For a time you will not want to speak to others of what grief feels like, or what this means, because you don’t know what it means. You want to dwell in this place of darkness and face death directly, to feel it as deeply as you can, and then, when it is time, you want to never come back.

This is your time to grieve. Give yourself to it.


One day you will pick yourself up and restart your life, but it will be a different life. For a long time you will carry around everything that has happened. Yet your path no longer heads deeper into the dark forest of death. Now it leads you into a land of light and warmth.

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