Coping With Loss – Chapter 2 : Funerals

Funerals are like weddings, it is an event people go to where the limelight is set on someone else and nothing ever seems to go as planned. The difference of course, being that in a wedding, people usually leave the event feeling hopeful and happy, at a funeral, most people tend to leave depressed or nervous. Weddings either remind you of a youthful past or a promising future, funerals remind you of your limited timespan and all the things you’ve yet to experience.

By now you get where I am going with this, funerals aren’t fun. I have heard my share of funeral stories, ones where everyone drank and partied until the sun rose, and others, filled with petty drama and crocodile tears. While it is impossible to know how someone will act at a funeral, it is certainly possible to know how they will feel. This is where clever writing, a decent skill in public speaking and a plan can be all the difference.

When it came down to who would take care of the funeral, I had taken the lead. This was for two reasons; one, I didn’t really have much else to do, and two, I had already talked with my mother about what she wanted before she passed. The plan itself was rather simple; put together a funeral that could reasonably accommodate all her friends and family regardless of where they were or if they could make it. Unlike a wedding, a funeral doesn’t get better or worse depending on how many people show up. If only one person comes to a funeral, the dearly departed can’t be disappointed.

Regardless of what religion you follow or theory on afterlife, one thing is always true, the dead can’t feel. By definition, a funeral is a tradition to honor the dead, in a way that brings closure for those attending. In my case, we held the funeral in a small church my mother attended. She was good friends with the pastor and his family, so they were exceptionally helpful in the planning and preparation of the event. Most of the planning consisted of a schedule for those who would be speaking, when music and a slideshow would be played and if there was going to be an open mic.

The way we had planned the funeral was simple;

Speeches – In order (approx. 10 min each)
1. Myself – [also giving eulogy]
2. Sister
3. Aunt
4. Grandfather
Slideshow / Music (approx. 5-10 min)
5. Pastor
6. Open Mic (approx. 20-30 min)

With the structure of the funeral laid out, and some basic explanation of what I had planned, we agree’d upon a time and date. Once that was taken care of, the second most important part needed to be worked out; how to setup a livestream of the funeral.

I originally pitched the idea to my mother like so; “What if we made it possible for people who don’t live nearby or can’t find time off work to still have a way to attend?”. She seemed to like the idea, and thought it would be nice to have a funeral that worked more around others situations than a selfish desire to satisfy her family. It wasn’t so much that our family in particular was selfish, but that the time and date for a funeral is set to accommodate the family more than anyone else. Since family are the ones who usually need a funeral more than anyone, making it work for them tends to be the priority.

After getting her approval I began to work on how I would achieve this. I didn’t have the money to simply hire someone to come out and set things up, but I also didn’t want to make something low quality either. I decided that I would just have to bring my computer down to the church, plug in the microphones, setup a camera and broadcast the stream privately using my cell phone’s internet. I informed the pastor as to what I had planned, and asked if I could come down and test the equipment. He liked the idea and let me come down a few days before the funeral. I brought all the equipment down to the church, set things up and tested them. It took a few hours, but once things were working, I made sure everything would take but a few minutes to setup and get ready.

With the date selected, the livestream tested and itinerary approved, I made a post on my mothers facebook letting her friends know the details. The initial reaction was confusion towards the livestream, though many who were out of state were very excited to hear they could still attend. The plan was to post a link to the private livestream on the day of the funeral and make sure that it was recorded so people could watch it later if necessary. With all the plans for the funeral taken care of, I was left with a week of waiting and two speeches to write; a personal letter and a eulogy.

When writing any speech, the most important part is not the quality, but readability. If you have trouble reading a speech, it could be the most impressive in terms of content, but sound completely stupid as you stumble trying to read it. I tend to write when I am feeling passionate about the subject matter. Formulating a sentence where you have to think heavily just to finish, usually means you aren’t in the right state of mind to be writing something.

To get into the mood, I turned on some music, put on my headphones and began to write a letter a could hear myself saying to my mother. I would choke up on lines here and there, or find myself writing continual run on sentences. Eventually I pieced together what I could muster saying out loud, and the end result was this;

Dear Mother,

At this point, saying thank you doesn’t feel strong enough to show how grateful I am for all the things you have done for me throughout my life. I know that in the beginning we weren’t always the closest, with my moments of being both a pessimistic rebel and a careless jokester. Over time though, we eventually developed a relationship that couldn’t easily be defined as ‘mother and son’ or ‘best friends’, it was something much more than that. You were always there for me when I needed anything; to ramble on about learning something new, to complain about people you’ve never met and giving me advice when I was in way over my head. Our talks we had, I will miss more than anything.

I am so grateful that we were so close, that I didn’t feel the need to keep secrets from you or worry that you might not love me. You always knew what to do when I was feeling stressed or depressed. You always treated my friends like they were your own children, and gave me the chance to have great memories with them. I miss you so much, and I wish that I could have taken all your struggles away. I know now that you are free from those burdens and you are finally at peace. I wish that you didn’t have to leave, I wish you could be here to continue watching me grow up and give me guidance when I am lost. But I will never forget the wonderful things you have done for me, and I hope that you will be proud of who I will become.

I couldn’t have asked for a better mother, friend, guidance counselor, and mentor. You were truly one of a kind, and I am blessed that I was born your son. Thank you.

While I was able to get through saying this in front of fifty or so people, I still can’t read it out loud personally without tearing up. It’s not that the content itself is sad, but more so the fact the words themselves can’t reach the one they were meant for. I’m not a big proponent for communicating to those who have passed, mostly because the hollow feeling you get when there is no response from them is what really hurts the most. I wish I had a chance to recite this speech in front of my mother, but at the same time, I also know that she already knew everything I wrote.

After saving the speech, I pulled open a blank document and began to write the eulogy. They aren’t as simple as ‘somebody has to do it, might as well be me’ sort of deals; more of a ‘somebody has to do it, though I wish it didn’t need to be done’. A eulogy is usually the first thing to be spoken at a funeral, and rightly so, they are the introduction for the audience of the type of funeral this will be. Going with a more light-hearted tone tends to make attendees feel more relaxed, while a heavy tone tends to set a morose and gloomy feeling.

I particularly didn’t want either. Being too relaxed doesn’t really get the point across that we are here to mourn a loss, but a heavy tone just makes things really tense. Crying is also something I don’t particularly like to be around, so there is that too. I opted for both, a heavy and light-hearted eulogy that gets the point across. My mother lived her life the way she wanted, and enjoyed it, but she was also taken from this world far too early. After a few days of mulling it over, I settled on this;

Tina was a kind soul. She wouldn’t stand out in a crowd, but would leave an impression on someone with just a casual conversation. Throughout her life, she was blessed with a loving family and supportive friendships.

When she was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer two years ago, anxiety and sadness overwhelmed her. She worried about not recovering, what the treatment would entail and if she would lose the chance to do the things she has always wanted to do. Thankfully, with the help of her friends and family, she managed to spend her two years with cancer doing more amazing things than she did in the years prior. Though she still took all those worries and fears, and push them aside to make sure others weren’t impacted by a disease she had no control over.

Her selflessness was without limit, even up until her very last moments. Even when she had bad days, she would still put on her gentle smile and get what she needed done. She was always someone who would rather help others than be helped herself, even when she needed it most. While most of us did everything we could to help her in any way we could, we always felt it was never enough compared to all the things she did for us.

She was a truly amazing woman, with seemingly limitless strength, love and positivity. You will be greatly missed but never forgotten. Thank you for being such an inspiration and we hope you are finally at peace from all the pain and struggles you faced.

Once the day arrived and I gave my speeches, I felt I had made the right choice in the tone I set. Everyone seemed to be mourning, but not depressed. The following speeches afterwards were either kind-hearted or heavy, which worked well with the current vibe everyone had. I spent most of the funeral making sure everything was going well with the livestream; balancing the audio, tossing up the slideshow when it was needed and so on. Keeping myself busy made it much harder to get chocked up listening to people break-down while giving their speech.

The funeral came to a close once everyone had finished talking on the open mic and we all began to move to the back for the reception. After turning off all the equipment I brought, I felt this surge of anxiety. It had finally hit me that my mother was never coming back, and I was left as the only person who truly understood the struggles I go through day to day. I tried to keep myself composed, holding back the shaking with fake smiles, thanking people for coming, and taking breaks now and again to have a cigarette with my friends. The rest of the day I was stuck in a perpetual panic attack, freaking out over the loss of a supportive mother I had been using as a crutch for all my life.

Once everyone began to leave, I gathered my things, hopped in my car and headed home. I met up with my friends and we went over to my grandparents for a private after-party for close friends and family. We all tried our best to talk amongst ourselves, sharing fond memories and eating food. I mostly sat outside, talking with my friends more until the festivities died down and I finally retired to my home. I laid in bed that night, letting all the things my mind had been screaming to me about finally come out. I tried to answer the questions, give retorts back to statements and of course, panic about the future. It was a day I would never forget, but also a day I wish I never had to experience.

When you are faced with a reality you’d rather not accept, it can be hard to not run away and never stop. Just constantly trying to get away from the voices in your head reminding you of the facts that you’d rather be fiction. Somewhere in all that chaos, a small whisper can be heard reminding you that life goes on, and surprisingly, it is true.