A family member died recently after a protracted illness. The last two weeks were difficult to bear, although in retrospect, I'm glad this beloved person didn't die suddenly. We had time to get used to the idea that he was truly dying. We had time to love him and take care of him, as best we could. There wasn't much we could do, but we did sit with him, hold his hand, and give him a sponge to suck on when he periodically came out of his coma, thirsty and hungry.
When the family was planning his funeral, several siblings wanted a "celebratory" funeral, one which focused on the wonderful life he had led, one which would make people smile and feel happy for him, certain he was going to heaven. I was something of a killjoy at this notion. I wanted everyone to be bawling their eyes out at the funeral. As Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says, "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die....a time to weep, and a time to laugh." How is it that even many Catholics don't know anymore that a funeral is to pray for the repose of the departed, to help him get into heaven? Funerals are not a time to put on a happy face, which seems a peculiarly American thing to do. Funerals are one of the few times we are allowed to publicly express our grief and sadness, no need to squash and hide the anguish we feel in our hearts.
A few of my favorite bloggers (Jill at Estate Vaults, Elena Marie at Tea at Trianon) linked to these articles about mourning over at Roman Christendom and at St. Mary Magdalen. Both are facinating pieces, covering traditonal mourning practices from earlier days and a discussing the psychological impacts of not being allowed to mourn. We would do well to bring back these traditions and understanding of funerals: "It is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins" (2 Macab. 12:46). Indeed.