Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

The Funeral Home Revisited

Monday, April 9, 2012
Posted By: 

Today we welcome guest blogger, Jane.  Thanks for your contribution!

Jane lives in Oak Park and is a full-time worker bee downtown. Her husband and best friend, Jim, was 49 when he died from a ruptured aneurysm on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2008. Forty-three at the time, Jane found support for her grief in therapy and peer support. She was also treated for post traumatic stress, which manifests itself in an unknown percentage of widows and widowers. Today, Jane lives in gratitude for her community of friends and family, especially her two stepchildren, who will forever be her husband’s greatest gifts.


An upbeat friend of mine, a widow in her 70s, passed away recently from cancer. She was lovely inside and out, and while sad, the news of her death was not unexpected. We widows understand that these things happen. People get sick; they die. Sometimes, like my husband, they die suddenly. We get it. We’ve been through it. We’re wise to the circle of life business. 

The visitation was scheduled for that weekend, and of course I would go. Even if it meant navigating the minefield of the local funeral home, where I’d planned and held my husband’s service more than three years prior. I was certain I could handle going back. After all, I’d been to funerals at other locations. And the funeral home doesn’t bother me much. I pass by it all the time, on my way to the hair salon or to meet friends. Across the street is a restaurant where my stepson and I eat soft shell crabs, just as we did when his dad was alive. Sometimes we dine outside, with the funeral home part of the picturesque backdrop. It’s not as if I avert my eyes. I’ve grown accustomed to the building’s presence.

Fast forward to the morning of the wake, when I woke up with a bit of anxiety creep. If you’re widowed, you may know what I’m talking about. As a newer, younger, messier widow, my anxiety was at times debilitating. It could be triggered by almost anything, or possibly nothing at all. Over time, and with a lot of help, I learned to manage what I called “the grievies.” I learned to do this really well. To reassure myself that everything is fine, that I’m strong and well-adjusted (everyone says so; it must be true). To take deep, yoga breaths and sit still for a while. To be patient. I’d married the most patient man on the planet; my husband was never in a hurry. I, on the other hand, was always in a hurry.

The wake was held on a Sunday. My to-do list that day was a half-mile long. As had become the norm in recent months, I was busy to the point of distraction. There was no room for contemplation. I couldn’t possibly sit still. There was too much to do! Maybe it was something akin to “widow ego” that fabricated such false assurances –  that I no longer actively grieve; that everything is under control. That I can cross the threshold of the funeral home without falling apart.

Unfortunately, things didn’t play out as I’d hoped. Once inside, my confidence crumbled. There were triggers everywhere – the parlor where my husband’s body had lain seemed virtually unchanged from before. Everything was the same, from the antique furniture to the paint on the walls. But it was the peculiar smell, the overwhelming scent of lilies mixed with I-don’t-know-what, that nearly brought me to my knees. The lily-smell left me dazed and shaken. There was no option but to flee, and I bolted. Outside, the flood gates opened. It had been well over a year, maybe longer, since I’d shed so many tears. I was caught off-guard. Embarrassed. The opportunity to say goodbye to my friend was lost. And instead of comforting others, it was others they comforted me.

The next day I felt fatigued and woozy. I’d been hit by something unpleasant, whether it be the grief monster or a mild flu. And though it took some time for the heaviness to lift, I was okay. Actually, I was more than okay. I was no longer in a hurry.


Jane - you are am amazing writer, and always so insightful. Love you.

This is beautiful, and so insightful.

Add new comment