Janet Gilbert: Funerals twist with reflection, sadness, gratitude


Janet's World

April 11, 2010|By Janet Gilbert | Special to The Baltimore Sun

Sometimes you can look at your life almost objectively. In these rare instances, you are permitted to pause and reflect a moment about what is really important. Some people have these epiphanies when they least expect it - at baseball games or in the shower or on long nature hikes. I suppose that's just happened to me.

Over the past two weekends, for the better part of both Saturdays, my husband and I have attended funerals. Ordinarily, funerals do not come to mind as an appropriate subject for my column, but I think things happen for a reason - and the reason I am writing this week's column about funerals is they have a message for the living.

It seems to me that it really doesn't matter whether the funeral service is held in a church or synagogue or community hall or auditorium. There is just something about the music and the formal atmosphere of reverence and respect that crosses cultures and religions, spans age differences and brings us all to the same place; that uncomfortable place where it's obvious we didn't bring enough tissues.

Often, for me, this occurs in the first 10 minutes of the ceremony.

After the program or service, we may be further moved by the photo montages of the deceased, juxtaposed with the present-day reality of surviving family and friends supporting one another. The result is we can all truly feel the way the word "grief" sounds, and we can relate on a very basic, human level.

I think of mourning this way: It's as if you took all sorts of ingredients that you normally enjoy in separate exotic dishes, but you baked a cake with all of them and ate the whole thing in one sitting: the garlic mixed with the vanilla, the onions and chocolate, the jalapenos and buttermilk. You're basically dealing with a lot of stuff that just doesn't belong together, and it can be a shock to your system. You can feel a little angry that someone was robbed of time but at the same time grateful that the person had so many lovely life experiences. You can feel proud of someone's bravery in the face of a terrible illness, yet devastated that the person had to endure such pain. You can feel frustrated by the things you wish you had said to the person but comforted by the memories of events you shared together.

Understandably, it's an emotionally exhausting experience. And I guess I couldn't go through it two weekends in a row without wondering, why did these back-to-back funerals happen, just now, at this point in my life? What was the message, if there was one, in addition to "always pack extra tissues"?

Truthfully, I had been feeling kind of sorry for myself in the aftermath of some things not working out the way I wanted and a few unexpected trials. The life of a humor columnist is not always hilarious - in fact, a lot of what I do is rather like taking an old, worn, cloth napkin and folding it up into a swan. And then you look at the swan and smile because you recognize that I made it with the napkin you have used for the past 20 years.

But it occurred to me that the message of these two funerals - and maybe all funerals - is that you should examine your life.

And I realize that my life is actually excellent! And that, pretty much, the things I have worried about are not important - but the relationships and experiences I enjoy daily are.

So before any more time passes, I want to thank you for the opportunity to examine my excellent life every week and share it, even when it results in an unfunny column about funerals. And, also, by the way, I love you.

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