This weekend was my brother’s memorial service, and here is the good news on that: 1) I will never have to relive that moment again, and every step forward is a step away from the rawest days of pain and loss. 2) I have been told by multiple people that was one of the best services and eulogies they have ever attended/heard.
It is with bittersweet irony that I say- apparently I plan a pretty great funeral. Or wake. Or celebration of life. Or whatever we want to call it, since in the end regardless of vocabulary, we are still gathering for the last memory of someone since that’s all there is left. Just the memory.
All I know is that preparing for it felt like the emotional and spiritual equivalent of running 100 miles. And though I was sitting in the first row close to the podium, my walk to the front to give the eulogy was the longest, and the loneliest, walk I’ve ever endured. It’s good the podium was a thick wood stand, since it hid the fact that my legs were shaking violently and involuntarily, and I thought they might collapse from convulsion. They did not. I tried to scrunch my toes to keep me grounded, placed my hands on the top of the podium to keep me stable, took a big deep breath and began to speak the things I’d been carefully holding inside of me all week.
There are no words to describe the surreality of this experience. I only had one sibling, and now he’s gone. I will never be in this position, ever again, saying those poignant words of goodbye. And there was no way I ever imagined I would be saying those words so soon, so young- I still say multiple times a day, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
I have learned that grief will set you apart on it’s own accord. It’s like a sorrowful sanctification process that plucks you out of the everyday stream of life and deposits you into some wasteland you’re forced to find a way out of. You begin to take an invisible and internal odyssey of grief across this strange new land- nobody else can see the journey, but you’re bound to it all the same. You learn to pretend to do real life, as inside you just keep taking one step after the other trying to head towards the light; though you don’t know what landscape the terrain will next take. One moment dry desert, next storm clapped sea, then brief calm of turquoise oasis before tectonics shift the scape again.
I decided last week that since I was lost in that wasteland anyways, I might as well take advantage of the space and infuse each element of my brother’s service with as much of him as I possibly could. So I labored over the words I was writing, polishing and shaping them again and again until they seemed to have perfect facets. And I painstakingly pieced together the video of his life, making sure I included all I could to show the brightness he possessed and the journey he took. I was impeccable with the items I lovingly chose for the memory table and the pictures I had enlarged, along with the colorful weathered wood frames I chose to display them. Then I wrapped all of it up in invisible pink chords of healing, hope and love: that those who saw, might see something of beauty in his life.
My brother was far from perfect- aren’t we all?- and since I believe in loving the whole and not just the sum of our best parts, I even figured out a way to include a little of his unpolished side in my words and give a nod to the fact that sometimes unpolished can be its own form of loveliness. But mostly… mostly I stuck to the beautiful. Memorials are for someone’s light, not their dark.
I don’t think I will ever forget standing up there, digging and reaching and finding the strength to keep my voice steady and true and clear, so I could let the ocean of words I spoke wash over that audience of silent witnesses, flowing in and out of people as they may. Sometimes you can’t control or contain truth, you just let it go where it needs. And in the end, I spoke what I could of my brother’s truth- in ways maybe even he couldn’t have spoken for himself.
I woke up Sunday feeling lighter than I have for the past few weeks. The sadness is still there… in spades and waves and unexpected outbursts of tears, but this sacred space I have been holding inside of myself to do this task- to speak well and true and through the eyes of love in front of a cloud of witnesses- this task is finished and that space has now been allowed to dissolve. It’s left me feeling freer and bigger, and in its dissolution… I’ve found the journey through the wasteland continues. Sometimes there’s larger glimpses of light. Sometimes the sea stills long enough to float for a bit and let the waves carry me. Sometimes I think I lose sight of the horizon… but in the end, it still stays near enough to see.
Like my eulogy, I find there is no good way to end these words I share today. The effort of going through that grief space has robbed me of my ability to caretake and contain my writing by cleverly wrapping things up and bringing them to a close on a note of inspirational hope. At present, I’m not even close to the close… how can I possibly finish this essay when this bizarre odyssey carries on. So instead, I will offer an alternative close and end with the last words I spoke on my brother’s behalf:
I didn’t want to write the closing to this eulogy. Because writing a close means taking one more step closer to the reality that my brother’s death is true… and that is a truth I simply do not want to be true. But in the end, I also know that death is just another journey. We open at the close. And this closure in my brother’s life has opened him to new and beautiful things in the next.
Godspeed our friend, our son, my brother. May you forever rest in love and peace. And Brother Skywalker- May the force always be with you.