Work to be Done
There is still dirt on my shoes, cemetery dirt, red and heavy on the black suede.
It can be difficult to sit in a funeral, especially when your place is among the family pews. I have been to many funerals in my life, but only a handful from this vantage point. When I have had the privilege to sit in the back it is somehow more bearable, still heavy, but somehow a little more possible to move forward with my day after I leave my seat. But sitting up front, I know the funeral is not the end. There is still the cemetery and its dirt.
When I received the call that he had died early Saturday morning, I knew at some point in the next several days I’d find myself in a church, in a small town, grieving the loss of him. I just didn’t expect it to be so hard. The service was long and unusually personal. The pastor knew him well, so the stories were told with compassion and meaning and pain. We sat in the family pews together: aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, parents, children, and me. We wept. We thought about him. We held each other and allowed ourselves to mourn together. We listened to the truth and the beauty spoken about his existence. That existence which is now over yet we have to somehow carry forward.
These moments are sacred. They are pure and necessary. I believe in something called collective sorrow. It binds people together. It ties family tighter. It can also create questions and guilt: What if...? I should have... I didn’t say... Sitting in a place where love and ache and regret exist together is a sobering experience. I needed to say his name to people who understand the great chasm that now persists in the world, in me. There is something about a funeral that allows space and time for this, this surviving in the reality that they are dead. You are allowed to openly grieve, to come undone. Until I was with the few who now live with the lack of him, it didn’t feel real. But, it is real. He is gone, and I too have to live without him.
No, the funeral is not the end. After sitting in that heart-rending sorrow, we made the pilgrimage from the tiny church, down the gravel road, past fields of wheat and cotton, under a cloudless sky with a swollen sun, to his plot. With sweat rolling down our brows and tears dripping from our eyes, we laid him to rest in the red dirt. That same dirt still covers my shoes. I look at it now and see it as a reminder that there are more invitations to say his name, share his stories, be present with his absence... more work to be done.
I will carry this dirt on my shoes, and it will carry me.
About the Author
Taryn Schuelke, MS, CT, CCLS is the Grief and Bereavement Specialist on the Pediatric Palliative Care Team at Texas Children’s Hospital. She holds a Master of Science and certification in Thanatology. Taryn has dedicated her professional career to supporting dying children and their families. In 2020, she published a children’s book titled A Kids Book About Death which has sold over 4000 copies. Additionally, she has published in academic journals, spoken on podcasts, and presented both nationally and internationally about death and grief. In her free time she finds peace through gardening, painting, writing, and playing the ukulele. She is a wife and mother to two young boys whom she adores. You can follow her on Twitter @TXgriefgirl.