Grieving Rituals

1 Jul

Sunday morning, before it got too hot, I spent some time in our front garden weeding. Crouched between a large bush and the front of my house, I pulled a big bundle of weeds at the base to get at the roots deep below the ground. With the weeds cleared, I saw a squirrel skeleton, partially buried and partially exposed. The vertebrae of the spine seemed perfectly intact. I gasped, then pulled away, then got curious, noticing the strength of my visceral reaction to the animal bones. The unmistakable sign of death and decay amongst the thriving life of my garden forced me to think about the cycle of life and my own mortality. The skeleton felt out of place, and it felt oddly personal to see the bones of an animal in my own yard. I wondered about the squirrel, when and how it died. I wondered if I should leave it be or bury it completely to rest.

Two weeks before I found the squirrel skeleton, I got a call that a good friend of mine had died in her sleep. The family wanted me to share the news, so I spent much of the next few days making phone calls and sitting with people on the line as they wept and grieved. Every person eventually asked, “When is the funeral?” The family had decided to have the funeral for just family, so the following question was, over and over, “Well, what are we going to do?”

On the afternoon that I found the squirrel skeleton, I opened up my home to my friends. I laid out pastries and pictures. Former teammates brought scrapbooks and stories. We prayed, told stories, cried, hugged, laughed. It was so simple, and like it was not enough, but it also felt necessary to us. Two women drove six hours to sit with us. We wanted to remember, celebrate, and grieve as a community. We wanted to lay her to rest in our hearts. This is what humans do. We bury our dead. We want a tangible place to go to remind us that she is really gone from this place. We need ritual for our own growth, our own mourning. We need to remind each other that in baptism, God promised to love us and never leave us no matter what. We need to promise to each other, publicly, that we will carry our loved ones with us and never forget.

In lieu of a funeral, our ritual seemed small, but it was beautiful and holy. It was our small way of burying our friend in the hope that she now knows eternal peace, that she is now home.

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