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Death comes to us all

Summer flowers hold memories of those we’ve lost. (Photo provided — Diane Chase)

I just spent a weekend celebrating the life of a friend. It wasn’t a funeral, as he had passed over two months ago. This service was more of a wake without the formal ceremony.

Since the family members were located so far away, it was easier for this celebration to take place when rules and regulations no longer dictated the process. The party was organized and thoughtful. It allowed time for acknowledgments from all facets of his life. Our friend was the center of a party he couldn’t attend. The delay didn’t stop the grieving process, but it kept his widow active as she planned a beautiful and loving service.

Death brings out the weirdness in us all. Like any terminal disease, it is whispered about as if speaking in hushed tones could stop it from coming. No one congratulates another person on death or gushes about it on social media. It’s not a trending topic, but it is something we will never escape. We can’t ignore it, no matter how hard we try.

I had thought we might have lost the sense that death is normal. My husband and I had different experiences growing up with death. He attended his first funeral as an adult, while I attended funerals as frequently as weddings.

I spent summers with my grandmother and swear she was a casserole pusher. She had food at the ready. There was food for illnesses and food for death. She’d pull a meal out of the freezer while casually talking about life, loss, grief and death. There was always someone being comforted by noodles and cheese. She normalized what needed to be normal.

Years ago, at a different funeral, my daughter shared her experience with a grieving son. She recognized his sense of loss. She was familiar with it. We hadn’t shielded her. She pulled from her grief for her young cousin. She remembered the funerals of her grandfathers. She recalled the social visits to friends and acquaintances when she dropped off casseroles and soup. She learned food doesn’t take away the pain, but food can normalize almost every situation. She used her past to help this young man embrace his future.

I understand death can surprise us. It makes us angry. Our own mortality evokes fear and sadness because we are never ready for it, while death is always waiting for us. I also know we can’t hide from it.

This weekend I moved through the crowd, making sure the widow was hydrated and fed. I stood in the background, watching people react so differently toward her loss.

Some people acted as if her status was contagious, while others took her into the fold. I watched while parents explained to their child why his favorite uncle was no longer there to greet him. I watched while those parents normalized the ending of a life, giving their child the gift to comfort someone else in years to come. I watched while people congregated and comforted each other. The only thing that was missing was noodles and cheese.

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