Today's day at the office... was thought provoking. After a year and a half of Zoom funerals and a few small or hybrid gatherings outdoors, this was the first regular Funeral Home event I've presided at since January 2020. The Service was preceded by 2 hours of masked visitation and way too much touching and hugging in the receiving line, with a hundred or so folks in attendance. Even at the cemetery people clustered close, it seems everyone's guard is down. I find myself cursing the CDC for guidelines that encourage a false security. Meanwhile hospitals in Baton Rouge are at capacity. We are all so vulnerable. During the Service I asked every one to keep wearing their masks, washing their hands, and to travel safely. They all nodded and I felt like a kindergarten teacher reviewing the golden rules.
We had poems today from e.e. cummings, Mary Oliver, and John O'Donahue. The man we celebrated was well loved and will be missed. His death was unexpected and so there was that Celebrant moment, witnessing everyone's struggle to integrate a sudden passage and helping them through the nuance of beginning to let go. His niece let us see her broken heart. His brother in law named him a mensch and a roomful of people learned a new word. The friend he rode bikes with at 11 and played poker with at 65 eulogized his lifelong buddy. His big sister rang the singing bowl. His wife crossed the threshold without him.
At the cemetery the breeze was sweet and the sky was blue and the family never knew that the funeral director had confided to me there might be a problem with the water table. Because soil conditions and climate change are also a consideration in burial ground operations. We've had over 12 inches of rain this month and the pond over yonder was at capacity. It turned out that after two dry days the water level had receded some and there was no puddle to contend with in the grave. The family remained none the wiser and unconcerned.
The graveside burial service (after a private family luncheon that also challenged my covid cautiousness) was intentionally brief. His daughters brought a stone from the wall in his garden to place on his coffin. We had some moments of awkward delay waiting for the cemetery crew to come and work the hand crank. Reaching for a way to ease the discomfort we all suddenly felt, I asked them for the favor of their voices. We sang 'row row row your boat' .... twice, gently. Then by shovel and by handful, with earth and cedar and roses, we gave J. to the ground. All the beauty surrounded us.
And then I got in my car and put hand sanitizer in my nose. Because, seriously, there is no screwing around with the Delta variant.
Tomorrow there is another funeral, a different cemetery, a small family gathering that is not likely to provoke my inner kindergarten teacher to surface. This will be an interment of ashes planned well before covid and postponed for over a year. The elderly family patriarch is immune-compromised and knows this may be his one window of opportunity to bring his children from around the country to the cemetery, and then for a meal. I'm not sure but even with a smaller group I may be compelled to rub hand sanitizer in my nose again when I get back in my car.
We are still navigating the covidiverse.
We are still figuring out how to keep each other alive.
It is ok not to be ok.
photo: blue sky and marble, Westfield MA / D. Stander