Reflections upon death

Carol Roach By Carol Roach, 14th Aug 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Bereavement

This article portrays my personal reflections of death as I formulated them after the death of my friend's mother.


This article was published in Storytime Tapestry and and Yahoo Voices

Published in 2008

I have had a pretty stressful last two weeks. One of my closest friend's from childhood, called to let me know that her mom had passed on coupled with the fact that I was very worried about my mother-in-law to be who looked as if it was also the end of her life's journey.

I am not sure that I handled either situation very well. I did want to write about it though. I had time to sit and reflect upon death since the happening, actually I was reflecting upon it in the funeral parlor. Nora, my friend's mother's death affected me much more than I thought it would have.

It seems cruel to me to sum up an entire lifetime in one article. Yet some of us will never even get that one article. No one will write about us, no one will tell the world they loved us, missed us, or even despised us. No one will take the time to acknowledge us.

Like many of my stories, this story will have several components to it. I can't tell you all the components at this moment because I don't really know myself. I have yet to think them through, yet to write them down, yet to share them with the world.

However, how I will begin is to tell you how I got to thinking about our beliefs about death when Nora's son gave a beautiful eulogy. He said he missed his mom and would continue to miss her, but at the same time he rejoices because he knows without a shadow of doubt, her soul is alive and with her maker.

What also made this eulogy so beautiful was the fact that Randy never knew his mother as a child and still delivered a eulogy that only a loving son could do. Nora had three children; Lavenia, Randall and Donna, Nora never married and lived with her sister a few streets away from my home.

Our families go back to Nora's mother who became friends with my grandmother. Nora and her sister Marianne shared a house together. By the time my generation came along, the grandmother, Ellen, had remarried and lived within walking distant of the old house. She was always around to visit with her children Nora, who was the eldest daughter, Marianne, and her grandchildren.

Marianne had her daughter first. Renate was the first friend I had ever had. Nora then gave birth to three children. She was a single woman and was only able to keep Lavenia her oldest child.

Like the generations before us, where Ellen and my grandmother was best friends, and Marianne and my aunt Bonnie were best friends, Renate, Lavenia and I became best friends.

Nora's family secret was well kept and I only found out in my late teens that Nora had two other children besides Lavenia. Once Lavenia became an adult she was determined to find her siblings. In a way she was successful and in a way she was not. She managed to find Randall, but she was too late to find Donna. Her sister had died years before. I found her story was steeped in mystery. Donna apparently died from malnutrition. She just stopped eating. Lavenia could not find out any more information than that.

Randall, was a full grown young man came into the family at that point and Nora was so happy she had a chance to get to know him. I am sure she was smiling down on him while he gave the eulogy that day.

Although he spoke about his mom in life and what she meant to him, Randy was more concerned with her soul and her place in heaven. He gave an open invitation to the congregants to accept the lord Jesus Christ and know the joys that he knew his mom was now experiencing. This charismatic young man's eulogy was so powerful, sincere, and heartfelt that it moved me to tears.

The eulogy and the wake

This very eulogy prompted me to take a look at other religions and how they viewed the afterlife.

First of all let me say that not every one believes in God or the after world. Agnostics are not sure of the existence of God and Atheists do not believe there is a God. Some religions such as Taoism renounce the afterlife as well. However for the purpose of this article we will look at some of the religions which do believe in an afterlife, with or without the presence of God.

Discussion About the Concept of the After world as Seen by Different Cultures

This section will look at how many of us in this world believe that even though death is a part of life, it is merely the end of our life on this earth. There is an afterlife where our souls will spend eternity.

There are references to an afterworld in mythology. For example in Greek mythology Hades was the god of the underworld. It is said that the dead must pass through the river of Styx to get to Hades. In the Styxian Marsh, there is also the river of Woe (Acheron) the river of fire (Pyriphlegethon) and the river of wailing (Cocytus). Some say all souls passed through the river of Tartarus to the realm of pure darkness.

the Wake - an Exploration of Different Funeral Practices Across Cultures

Even though we believe in an afterlife, I think that most of us really cannot predict how we will react when we are faced with the death of a loved one. I think death affects us differently, and is as unique an experience as was the uniqueness of the person we mourn for. What we think we will do and how we think we will cope with the situation may be very different when the situation actually happens.

I once read that to mourn for the dead was only a selfish reaction on our part, if we believe in the afterlife and that our dearly departed have gone on to a better place then we should rejoice for them; not cry. Randall understood that and he did rejoice. However, I have yet to see many people actually rejoice. For the most part, rejoicing can be considered a cultural factor.

The first celebration to illustrate this point that comes to mind is the Irish wake (Caoineadh). However the Maori of New Zealand practiced a celebration of this nature for the dead long before the European custom.

Caoineadh, the Irish wake traditionally was held in the home of the deceased for the purposes of viewing the corpse prior to burial. It was a mixed time of mourning and gaiety where extended family and friends gathered together to console the grieving family and to celebrate the life of the departed. Food and alcohol was served and sometimes the wake appeared to be a big party. In the traditional Irish wake, the women wash and prepare the body for viewing.

All clocks in the house are stopped, and a rosary may be placed in the hands of the deceased while a Mass is said in the house to prepare the soul's passage to the afterworld.

The following day the deceased is transported to the church in a closed coffin and visitors who were not able to attend the ceremony at the house have a last chance before the corpse is buried.

This traditional Irish wake is descendant from an older Celtic tradition. The Celts believed that the corpse was on its way to a better world and thus the reason for the celebration. Today in Ireland, the wake may be held completely at the funeral parlor and not at the home of the deceased.

The Viking practice of the wake involved sending the corpse off to sea and then telling stories about the deceased in their honour at a designated grave site. This was call a day of observance for the dead.

In African traditions there is the funeral procession where the dead are carried through the streets and the mourners, shout, chant, and sing. During the celebration, the Africans drink the libation, the (liquid sometimes alcohol), sing and dance.

The Jewish people sit Shiva. Shiva is the seven day mourning period after the death of a loved one. The focus of the service is to celebrate the life the departed once had. The survivors also concentrate on their feelings to facilitate the healing process. Shiva is a time of reflection and prayer. Every prayer, including the Kaddish, is designed to celebrate life and not death.

In North America, our tradition is to show the body at the funeral parlor. It is usually a solemn occasion. Friends and family gather around the casket, while some touch the corpse and others do not, some cry and others stand in quiet observance. Some have a priest or minister say a prayer over the coffin, and again others do not, and finally some people have a separate church service.

The reactions of the family and mourners are diverse, some laugh, and talk, and socialize, others are quiet and reflective, some cry while others look on.

Until the day it happens no one can really predict their reaction to the death of a loved one or friend. Nora's son Randy rejoiced at his mother's passing, her daughter Lavenia seemed cool and collected. Her niece Renate cried softly, her granddaughter Nadine sobbed her heart out and her grandson Kenny stood quietly looking on.

Our own journey

How did I react to the funeral service? Well, I surprised myself. Never would I have guessed that I would have taken Nora's death in the way that I did.

You see Nora and I never really had a close relationship. Yes. Lavenia, her daughter, and I were best friends, but Nora and I were not close. I was much closer to the grandmother, Ellen, who would come by every Thursday night and take Lavenia, Renate, and myself out for a hamburger supper. We were just kids but we looked forward to it. Sometimes the three of us would go over and visit her at her new apartment on Walker Street.

Then there was Marianne, Renate's mother. I spend more time with her. Marianne was like a mother to the three of us. Lavenia was much closer to her aunt Marianne than her own mother. Marianne was always tending to us children, whereas Nora was very aloof.

I remember being just nine years old and Nora would laugh at my weight. I remember Renate sticking up for me and telling her aunt that it was not a very nice thing to say and she should apologize to me. I remember Nora then saying "Oh alright!"

We were no angels either. Renate and I sometimes laughed at Nora behind her back. I'm sure she knew about it. We used to laugh at the way she dressed, at the way she talked, and at the way she cooked. Marianne, Renate's mother was such a good cook, but Nora couldn't even make a hamburger without the meat falling apart. However, what we did not know at the time was that Nora had her funny ways because Nora was mentally ill.

Yet, even with mental issues she managed to hold down a grueling job in the laundry division of one of Montreal's hospitals for years until she got progressively worse and they had no choice but to let her go.

By this time, I had grown up, married,and left the area. However, whenever I was downtown, and I met Nora on the street she would stop and say hello and ask me how my mother and aunt were doing. In fact, Nora would do that with everyone. Nora never ignored a person she knew, and she was genuinely happy to see them.

Nora was a social person and after she was home she needed to find an outlet. She needed to be among people and to socialize.

Even though she had a home, she found another home in a local drop-in center for indigent women. The center served lunch each day to the many women living on the street, or had some sort of mental illness. Nora fit right in and she began to make friends.

Even though Nora remained social and greeted the many people she knew on the street in our community many tried to avoid her and others laughed or talked about her behind her back. Here at the woman's center she was not judged by a standard she was unable to attain. No one laughed at the way she acted or the way she dressed. She was made to feel welcome by the visitors and workers alike.

Unfortunately during her later years Nora became totally dysfunctional and had to be admitted to a nursing home. Lavenia hated to make that decision to place her, but under the circumstances it was the best decision for all concerned.

I would often inquire about how Nora was doing. Lavenia would always say she was doing well. She still recognized her daughter and had her wits about her, though her body had failed her and her memory was not what it once was.

About six months ago, Marianne, Nora's younger sister, and Renate's mother passed away from cancer. I couldn't go to the funeral. It was held in New York where she lived. I felt a twinge in my heart when I heard the news. I loved Marianne in my own way.

Two and a half weeks ago, I got the call from Lavenia that her mother had passed away in her sleep. As always, level headed Lavenia, gave me the time and date of the viewing and the church service and requested that I be present at one or the other. She understood if I could not attend both.

My first reaction was that I knew in my heart that I had to attend both. I would feel so guilty if I didn't. Nora nor her daughter, would never have missed the funeral service had the tables been turned and one of my beloved family members passed away. That was just the kind of people that they were.

More importantly, I just could not disappoint Lavenia, my childhood friend. It was my place to be at her mother's funeral. There was no other option to consider.

I planned to go with my aunt and cousin. They had to leave right away, but I was going to stay the entire time. The first thing we remarked was how beautiful Nora looked. She truly looked at peace. She looked angelic. No one could laugh or remark about the way she was dressed other than to say that she was well dressed. I heard people say how this was the best that they had ever seen Nora look and I had to agree, it truly was.

One of the concerns I believe that Lavenia had was that not many people would come to visit her mother. Her fears were unfounded. Nora had a multitude of people coming and going all day and night long. There was family, friends of the family, her personal friends, Lavenia's friends, and friends and workers from the woman's center and the nursing home.

A crazy thought came to me as I explained to Lavenia afterward. I thought to myself that Nora had a very respectable showing and outpouring of love, and if I were to die, who would come to my funeral; a hand full of people at best.

Beside my strange reaction to her death, I did have a wonderful time reconnecting with friends from the past. These were people I had not seen since my childhood. I have to admit most recognized me whereas I did not recognize them. It felt good to relive my childhood memories with them, to feel part of the community I thought I had long left behind. I felt that I had come home. I left the funeral parlor that evening feeling happy and that was another reaction I never expected to have.

The following day at the church service, Nora's death finally hit me. I realized this was the end of her life. I would never have a chance to see her again.

I met Randy for the first time the night of the showing for but a brief moment, and then I heard him give his eulogy. I couldn't hold back my tears. I tried to wipe my eyes and slide down in my seat so no one could see me crying. I felt embarrassed.

You see I have hidden my tears all my adult life. This display of emotion was first of all unexpected and second of all out of character. It was not the way I portray myself to the world.

Lavenia remained calm and collected just like always but her daughter Nadine broke down. When I saw Nadine cry, I had to let it out, I had to cry as well.

Nora was not my mother, and no I was not as close to Nora as I was to her sister Marianne, but Nora was an important part of my childhood. They are all gone now, Ellen, the grandmother, Nora and Marianne her children. All that is left are the grandchildren. Lavenia and Renate are the oldest surviving generation of the family.

With the death of Nora came the realization that a chapter of my childhood was now permanently closed. It will not be long until Lavenia, Renate, and I make that journey to the afterworld and reunite with our love ones once again.

I hope that I will be ready and I hope that I will have a nice gathering of people at my funeral as well.

All photos taken from the public domain

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author avatar Lady Aiyanna
15th Aug 2015 (#)

May her soul rest in peace. God bless her spirit. Sorry for your loss.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
15th Aug 2015 (#)

Thought provoking share, thanks Carol.

Everyone thinks of the day when our return ticket gets confirmed and the hereafter. When I was a child one of my father's friend said that he told his children to celebrate his life upon his death. In fact, he told them to have a beer and laugh at his follies. I too prefer that way as I will be looking ahead and if nothing, it is alright though I have a nagging feeling there will be few waiting for me with open arms! siva

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author avatar Stella Mitchell
15th Aug 2015 (#)

What a good post Carol as usual ...
When I go to be with my Lord Jesus I have told my Church family and friends not to wear black , and to put colourful balloons all around the building ..
I will not be there .
I will be in Heaven with loved ones gone before and free of sadness and the limitation of this world .
I want people to remember me as one who loved her God and served Him to her last breath .
My poem ..My Musings Of Heaven - Oh Beautiful Land ...sums up where I know I will be .
I pray my dear friends here will be there too
God bless you
Stella ><

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author avatar Kingwell
16th Aug 2015 (#)

Thank you Carol for a good share. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this and hope to see more. My first real encounter with death came in 1974 when my father died. He was the first member of our closely knit family to make the transition and it was difficult. I held up well however, as I knew that my mother was counting on me. Later I found time to be alone and shed my tears. In 1978 my first wife lost a niece to a traffic accident and just over a week later her own mother died. Later that same year her father and grandmother also passed. My own mother had been living with us for nine years when she made her transition in 1983 and my first wife died suddenly in 1995. I will not continue with this litany, suffice it is to say that I had eight siblings and now have just two. Death in the family is no stranger to me and since I am now in the autumn of my own life, be it long or short, I hope to see many smiling faces when my time comes. My own thought is that like so many things in life, death itself is not nearly as frightening as thinking about it. Blessings.

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author avatar Carol Roach
16th Aug 2015 (#)

I never heard that before, death is not as frightening as thinking about it, thank you for your wisdom

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