Grief is a funny thing. Our mind tells us one thing, but our heart tells a different story. Healing from grief is a process of getting both of them in agreement. We know that our loved one has died, we attended their funeral and ate the casseroles our friends brought over. Yet our heart still expects to see them sitting in their chair when we walk in the door or to hear their voice when the phone rings. We think we see them out of the corner of our eye when we are out in a crowd. We continue to look for them in their old familiar places. The heart just does not want to let go and accept the physical separation that death brings.
However reminders of our new reality are everywhere. We dutifully respond to condolence cards sent. We fill out forms, complete paperwork and inform companies of their death. Slowly we go through their personal items as we shed tears that they are no longer present to wear once again that shirt you secretly hated.
We visit the cemetery and place flowers at the grave. At first their name may not be present at the burial site. It may even take you a while to decide what to put on the marker or the weather may prevent the inscription from being completed. Perhaps it is just one of those things you meant to get to, but have not had the heart to do. There will come a day when you go to the grave and there it is: your loved one’s name is set in stone. Your heart drops to see it as a reminder of the finality of their earthly life. It may come as a shock to you. You may look away for a moment or lean on a friend or family member who is with you. A name that so easily came out of your mouth and that answered your calls and signed your birthday cards. The same name that you heard thousands of times. The name that connected you to one another. There it is: set in stone. Etched on the monument or on the new marker you ordered.
Funny how something you knew to expect can still be so jarring. It is a moment that commands you to stop for a moment and remember. The tears may flow and the grief wash over you. A name that brought such joy now brings sorrow in their absence.
The Jewish faith recognizes the difficulty this moment can bring and conducts an unveiling ceremony, consecrating the monument, sometime during the first year following the death. Family and friends gather once again and prayers are recited. In community those present are supported in their grief. This is a time for remembering and sharing stories of the deceased.
Your faith may have different practices, but you can still gather people around you the first time you go to see your loved one’s name carved in granite. You can allow yourself a moment to reflect and remember and to mourn a little while longer. Just as their name will now live on in perpetuity on their monument, so too will they live on in your heart.
Nancy Weil is a leading authority on humor and grief. She serves as Director of Grief Support for eleven cemeteries and is a Certified Funeral Celebrant and Grief Management Specialist. Through her company, The Laugh Academy, she offers products to ease the stress and pain that grief can bring. Bandages for Your Heart on DVD or CD, Laugh for the Health of It on CD and her new book, If Stress Doesn’t Kill You, Your Family Might, can be ordered by clicking here.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons / Avia Venefica