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Mourning

Healing Kindness

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: Valerie Everett

A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.

— Joseph Joubert

Where I grew up, a good old fashioned Catholic wake was the norm.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the tradition, a wake usually consisted of the presence of the casket in a viewing room; a kneeler in front of the casket so prayers could be said, a short conversation of condolence with family members and a Rosary led by a priest.  If the person hadn’t died in an awful accident leaving them unfit to be seen, the casket was open.

I’m sure that this tradition probably evolved from the older tradition of folks dying in their homes and being laid out in the living room.  Friends would come by to pay their respects and there was someone attending the deceased at all times until they were buried.  As we got more “civilized,” the mortuary took over the responsibility of preparing the body and providing a place for everyone to gather to mourn.

Wakes have largely disappeared – with many families opting for a memorial service in a chapel and the burial.  My own mother had so hated the tradition that she hadn’t wanted a wake, just to be cremated.  (Her first experience with a wake was for her mother and it scarred her for the rest of her life.)

Kindness and Caring

When my mother died, we scheduled the funeral Mass as soon as feasible so that Dad wouldn’t have it hanging over him.  She was old enough that many of their friends had passed before she did.  The funeral was in another state than where I live so none of my friends could come.  Some of Mom’s friends came as well as my cousin and my ex-in-laws (who are closer to me than most of the other people in my life) – and that was it.  It was quiet and low-key.

Recently, my father died after several years of living with Alzheimers.  He passed peacefully and it was expected.  I took a short time off from work and when I came back to work, it was like a wake – in a corporate environment – without the body – and no Rosary.  One at a time, each person came over to my cubicle to express their sympathy, hug me and tell me that they’re praying for all of my family.  It was difficult and yet, somehow comforting.

I had dreaded going back to work because I wasn’t sure what would happen and how I would handle it.  It was hard in the beginning, but the kindness and caring were so apparent that it was uplifting.

So Very Grateful

I’ve written once before that being an adult means stepping up in difficult situations.  As much as none of us know what the right thing is to say, or write in the sympathy card, it’s important that we make the effort.  It’s also important that when we’re the one going through the tough times that we graciously accept the kindness being offered.

The person who loses a parent to dementia has often made their way through all the stages of grief by the time the parent dies.  The parent that they knew has been gone for a long time.  The relationship, good or bad, has also disappeared.  The pain has been experienced in big or little jabs as they watch the deterioration that dementia inevitably brings.

I believe that both my parents didn’t suffer as the disease progressed.  It’s a hard process to observe but it seems that there is a point at which each of their struggles was over – before they died.  They certainly struggle no more.

After my mother’s funeral, a friend’s mother-in-law died.  I went to the service but I just couldn’t stay afterwards.  My own sadness got in the way.  But it was OK, because there were others who could stay and be there to help her through her tough times.  So, I went home.  There have been other times when I was the one who could stay.  Today someone is kind to me.  Tomorrow, it’s my responsibility to pass on the kindness.

Gratitude is one of the emotions that helps us find our way out of sadness.  When people are kind, my gratitude for all of the good intentions around me builds.  For me, that’s the beginning of healing – to know that others have been here before me, they have gone through what I am going through and they are willing to help me find my way.  I may feel alone, but I’m not really alone.  I am surrounded by kindness and I am so very grateful.

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