A few days ago I posted about death and the afterlife, but mostly about how it shouldn’t really be the thing which preoccupies our spiritual thoughts. Spending one’s life focused on what happens after it’s over is like not fully focusing on school because you’re focused on what your job will be like when you graduate. You end up ill-prepared.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a strange relationship with death. My father worked for several years as a funeral director, and both of my brothers took grounds-keeping or night guard jobs at the funeral home as teens. Even when my father went back to preaching, he continued to be a resource for the funeral home whenever a family didn’t have a minister or musician in mind for their service. I grew up with a white board magnetized to the fridge with a list of “Dad’s Funerals” for the week on it. Death was a nearly daily event, even if I never really experienced the grief or knew those who passed. Still, the process of death became just another part of living. Caskets are chosen, bodies are processed to look nice, people come together to cry and remember and lean on each other, and then they roll sod over the new grave and everyone goes on living.
Because I have such a weird connection to that part of death and grief, I think maybe that part isn’t as important as we make it out to be. Not that it isn’t important at all. The ritual of burial and remembrance, the formality of finality, that is an exercise in human emotion. I do think we need some way to mark the end of a person’s life, the loss of a piece of our own, in a way which makes it easier to let go of. We have to do something to force us to accept the finality, the reality of loss, or we build a whole life afterwards of delusion and acting.
But after that, when we’ve reached the point of acceptance, the rest of the roadmap of mourning is a journey of adjusting to something missing. Like this blog post pointed out, the actual process of mourning, of adjusting, means taking a look at the reality of our lives, the reality of our relationships, the reality of ourselves. When you get a flat tire you can try to keep driving as if it weren’t there, as if the rest of the good tires and the newly changed oil will make up for the missing part, but eventually the car will be undrivable.
And mourning, most of all, means making changes. It’s a process of adjustment, not just a process of getting progressively less sad. We make changes to fill the gaps in our existence. We find new people to fill the roles of those we’ve lost. We learn to do things others used to do for us. It means thinking about the loss, thinking about the person you no longer have with you, not as an ideal but as a reality.
In the end, the rest of the world, including us, is supposed to go on. The sun rises and sets, the seasons change, and the demands and joys of life are still out there for us. And most of all, no matter what we do, death is a change which cannot be reversed.