Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The procession of grief

Go. Photo by Brian Talbot, Flickr

In a day of GPS, Google maps, and smartphones, why do we still have funeral processions?

I asked myself this on a frigid Friday this past February, as I impatiently tapped the gas pedal of my rental car, stuck in the middle of a long row of vehicle-bound mourners for a dear family friend. My four-ways were flashing; the procession tag was stuck in my dash; my youngest cousin was seated beside me, ready for the ride. Our slated route was set to go through neighborhoods in and around the area where I grew up, places I hadn't considered in decades, much less seen. It should take, the funeral director said through my passenger window, 45 minutes.

The line began to move. I followed suit. Within 10 minutes I saw that this endeavor would likely result in gray hair and/or a totaled car. No matter how closely I paid attention or drew Lamaze-like breaths, I could not get into the nonstop flow. The idea of blowing through red lights scraped against every defensive driving muscle I've ever built up; I either hit the brakes too hard (bouncing my petite cousin against her seatbelt) or left too much room between cars (inviting interruption in the link). The result was a herky-jerky, brake-or-bust stumble through the outskirts of Philadelphia -- a display so inept that my parents called me from their car, one length away, to reiterate the rules of procession.

By the time we arrived at the cemetery, I was stressed and sweating. My poor cousin was an unsavory shade of chartreuse. We both leaped from the car the minute I put it in park, not considering how it appeared to look so over-eager at a graveside.

But we made it there. Together. Even though I'd almost rear-ended my own parents at several points, they were now standing with me and dozens of other mourners, united in mourning and remembrance for someone we loved.

Move toward the exit light. Photo by David Goehring, Flickr

Removed from the jerking car, now able to view it at a safe, still distance, I recognized the funeral procession as the vehicular manifestation of grief and consolation. When you are part of a procession, you are not only driving that single route -- you are also entering a long continuum of suffering that stretches far past your personal experience and winds its way back through every other human who has followed a body to its inevitable final stop. You are moving with others who share your emotions, while allowing people outside your insulated cushion to sacrifice a few moments of their day to make your way a little easier at a difficult time.

My defensive driving, it turns out, was too defensive. I was trying too hard to control a process that required me to let go to be effective. Instead, I should have relaxed into the grief, allowed the current to carry me to the cemetery, to our loved one's side one last time.

The minute the final rites ended, my cousin escaped back to her family's car (understandable), and my mother joined me in the rental. As each car passed the cemetery gate and hit the main road, they scattered, charting their own routes to the hall for luncheon. With no procession to lead us back, I fired up the GPS. I obeyed traffic signals. I followed the automated voice's instructions. And it was not as comforting as I once thought.

Prayer #283: Turn ... Up?

In one hundred feet --
enough distance for you
to scream, stall, stew,
hem, haw, hide,
run, rage (but god forbid
respond) --
turn
right into My arms
and you will reach your
destination.

Amen.

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