When my Nana died, I told my husband that he didn’t have to come to the funeral with me. I’d made peace with her passing some time before, and I felt confident that the funeral would be more of an exercise in paying my respects than a major emotional experience in which I’d need support. And, since we live far away, it made more sense for him to stay home, go to work, take care of our cats – in the scope of things, it didn’t seem to me like a situation that required an escort. So, he stayed, and I went alone.
I drove the six hours from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania, stayed over at my parents’ house, and got ready for the service, wearing the required black things that signify mourning, though I still felt okay. My dad was having trouble with the loss, and I made a mental note to stay close to him at the services, to be sure he was well taken care of. My role felt clear – to provide support and to be present – so that was the intention that I set.
When I arrived at the viewing, things got unexpectedly hard. My family, my whole family (and guys – there’s alot of us), was gathered in a room in folding chairs. My Nana was placed in a casket at the front of the room, where people could go up to see her, to say goodbye. I guess this is how funerals always look? I have been to too few of them to know. What I knew for sure in that moment was that there was no way I was approaching the casket, seeing what was inside, and leaving with that visual in my mind. I froze. Instead, I stood in the hallway, and cried quietly, to myself. My cousin Susan came out briefly and I didn’t know how to explain what I was doing, so I said, “I’m not going in there.” She said, “You don’t have to.” Her response felt gracious and kind.
Crying in front of everyone is not my favorite. But at that point I resolved myself to the surprising fact that that was a thing that was apparently going to happen a lot that day.
I don’t remember exactly when they showed up, but seemingly out of nowhere three of my closest friends appeared. I saw them seated during the service, and nodded at one of them when I (still crying) followed my Nana’s casket out of the church. When they lowered Nana into the ground (and I cried), they stood quietly behind me. When everyone went to the family restaurant afterwards to remember Nana and watch a beautiful memorial video (and I cried), they sat at a table with me. We did not talk about things and they didn’t offer magical words about loss or memories. They just showed up. Unexpectedly. It was the most profound thing that anyone outside of my family has ever done for me. Their presence was healing, solid, and invaluable, and I’d no idea that I would need it. But somehow, they knew.
As a therapist (and as a person), I am usually very confident about my ability to say the right thing, to hold space, and to cope in difficult emotional situations. I am always shocked by emotional surprises. At this point in my life, it doesn’t happen very often that I can’t predict how something might make me feel. But at the end of the day of my Nana’s funeral, I felt different than I had expected – exhausted, sad, and grieving. And, at the same time, loved, supported and accepted.
Showing up is so simple, but at the same time is super hard. It requires us to be places we don’t really want to go, to give of our time, and to forget about ourselves for a moment. That’s a hard sell for me – to forget myself – but I’ve become convinced of the power and value of it. I don’t know if my friends knew that their coming to Nana’s funeral would be important. But they did, and it was, and I am so grateful to them for knowing it when I didn’t.