The busy-ness of mourning helps to numb pain of loss

Family Matters

August 22, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER

THE ELABORATE RITUAL of the American funeral is less about saying a final farewell to a loved one than it is about keeping the bereaved so busy after a death that they donM-Ft have time to feel the first terrible pains of loss.

Among the cumbersome tasks to be attended to are clothes and food.

These issues loom so large in the planning of a funeral that you are likely to lose track, blessedly, of the reason for them.

My mother-in-law, God rest her soul, would have handled these details with certainty, but unfortunately it was her funeral, and her four sons were understandably adrift.

M-tThank God for the sisters-inlaw,M-v her sons said, and we were happy to take a bow.

But the sure hand of Grandma was there when we found in the back of her closet a dress with a note pinned to it. M-tBury me in this,M-v it said.

Unfortunately, Grandma was either indecisive or forgetful because she pinned the same note to two other dresses. Ruling out a costume change, we had to make a choice, but at least she had reduced the options.

Also unfortunately, Grandma was the only one with appropriate clothing for this unhappy event, and I dispatched my 18-yearold daughter to the mall.

M-tBare midriffs donM-Ft make it at a funeral,M-v I said to Jessie.

She found something suitably somber, though much shorter than youM-Fd like to see going down the aisle at church.

She also purchased a pair of black Manolo Blahnik knock-offs that she said were a tribute to her grandmother, who, like JessieM-Fs skirt, was very short, but who liked high heels.

It was necessary to remind my husband and son to purchase dress socks, and while I would like to attribute that to the fog of grief, I donM-Ft think that would be honest.

When it counted, GrandmaM-Fs children and grandchildren looked so starched and pressed that she would have been inches taller with pride, and I wondered why people are so reluctant to take pictures at times like this.

GrandmaM-Fs forethought about choosing her burial outfit triggered in me a mental inventory of my own closet, and I concluded that I donM-Ft have a thing IM-Fd be willing to spend eternity wearing.

My husband declared that he is not to be buried in a suit because he never wore one in this life, but that still left me with decisions to make. I made a mental note to shop for something appropriate at the first opportunity.

My son said he thought it was a fitting tribute to his grandmother that all her friends arrived wearing their hair just like hers and outfits that might have come from her closet.

Meanwhile, daughters asked these women, during quiet moments at the funeral home, if they wouldnM-Ft mind following GrandmaM-Fs example and pinning a note to a favorite outfit and perhaps selecting some appropriate jewelry.

One of the best things about going home to GrandmaM-Fs was the food. Her refrigerator was always full of comfort food and the counter was laden with desserts.

Unfortunately, she was not there to cook for us all, as she had for so many years, and there wasnM-Ft so much as an egg or a piece of bread in the house.

We all stood in her kitchen and looked confused and helpless.

Eating is something else the bereaved do. Grieving is hungry work. But without Grandma, we were at the mercy of thoughtful friends and neighbors who didnM-Ft exactly consult the food pyramid before bringing us tribute.

We had apple-walnut pie with caramel sauce topping for breakfast three days in a row, but no one complained.

After the funeral, we gathered in the church hall for a luncheon of rigatoni and fried chicken and sandwiches, and everyone ate like they were starving.

We all agreed that the food would have been better if Grandma had been cooking.

With full stomachs, we returned to GrandmaM-Fs house. The smart ones fixed a covered plate of leftovers to take with them. Once there, we slept.

That is something else the bereaved do a lot of in the days immediately after a death. It keeps them from feeling the first terrible pains of loss.

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