She was thirty-ish, and she worked for the same agency I do. I knew her enough to nod as we passed, perhaps one of us would say something about the weather, or comment about how the week end was coming.
I was told that she went to the emergency room with a head ache. She died there. I found out she had a young child.
Left to my own devices, I would not have gone to her wake.
I had thought about it, and I had decided not to. I told myself these stories about why I shouldn’t. They were even true, almost. Sort-of.
When my co-worker nudged me in that direction, I had to embrace the fact that there were stories about why I should go. And these were more true. And so I did.
We headed there. And that was… a journey. We are not detail guys, my coworker and I. I think it is fair to say that we have more book learning than street smarts, more intellect than social ability. The drive there, was an adventure, almost. It is entirely possibly that we ended up laughing some, and finding ourselves in a highly ludicrous situation. That is a story for another time.
When we arrived at the funeral home, the place that we were supposed to be, I doubted myself again, doubted the decision. There were these sad people gathered outside. Sad (or perhaps just empathic) workers by the double doors. I thought about The Shining a little bit; the book and movie are built on the belief that places take on an echo of the emotions that are felt there. Even if there had been nobody there, even if I didn’t know the person, even if you had hid the signs proclaiming the nature of the business done there… I suspect a person might have sensed it: the sadness.
After skulking around, a bit, we made our way to the slow-moving recieving line. It wound through the small rooms in the house. When we entered the actual room, I was confronted with the realization that we would soon be facing what remained of her physical presence. I could not yet see her, but on the other side: her family. Siblings, parents, even a grandmother. When I told the story later, my wife rightly observed: nobody should have to bury their grand-child.
And when it was my turn, I was confronted with the reality that it is so good and also so terrible, the way we come face-to-face with a body in an open casket. A simple picture, rendered in crayon, was placed above her head, next to a photograph. This perfect little boy was the subject of the photo, and presumably the artist of the picture.
What do you say? This is the question that crashed into me as I approached the recieving line. My natural awkwardness conspired with my desire to find words that help and heal, words that come from a place of wisdom and maturity. Am I supposed to introduce myself? Offer general condolences? Specific thoughts? I mumbled and murmered some kind of hybrid of all of these, and I felt an imposter, a fake, a hack.
Outside the house were some familiar faces; coworkers stood silently, together. Some of them new her better than me. Some of them were crying. I took my place in the circle. And I went looking for words. I stood there in that silence and I realized something:
It was good that I was there. I did not need to say anything… More than that, I should not say anything. Not in that holy moment.
We stood in silence together. Every word in that sentence is important: We stood in silence together.
That was the point: an object lesson, a lived demonstration: sometimes, there are no words. Sometimes, all we can do is stand together in silence. And that is enough because it is all that we have; it is enough because it has to be.