There is time to pause when coming upon a funeral procession.
Waiting in your own vehicle, the steady steam of little purple flags and highbeams and hazards passing you by. It’s a moment to reflect.
Music gets turned down when I come upon a funeral procession. I might be on my way to get groceries. Or to a class. Or to a meeting. For me, I’m going about a standard day. For them, they are bringing a loved one to rest. My morning’s agenda will bleed into the afternoon’s without much thought. I will forget most of what I do that morning, none of it really lingering. Their morning’s agenda will signal the start of something irrevocably different.
The funeral procession is universal. It spans cultures, countries, centuries & millennia. Somehow we have all banded together in this collective ritual. By foot, by horse, by carriage, by hearse. To the pyre, the temple, the gravesite. We travel single file to lay the dead to rest.
This morning, I’m on the other side. Now I’m the one in the procession, watching the cars that have to wait at intersections and streetlights. I stare at the drivers, the passengers. I see exhausted, impatient faces. Are any of them reflecting? Any taking that moment to pause? Will any of them go to the grocery store or the gym or work with a little more reverence?
The procession for my brother-in-law is vast. Two towns are essentially on pause as we pass through. It gives the smallest hint as to how loved he was. The impact he had. The legacy he is leaving behind.
Tired, exasperated faces. A few visibly showing regret — even annoyance — that they picked that time to be on the road, that time to turn left. And now they are stuck in traffic. Now they have to wait.
I want to huff out a, “Show some respect.” But I know it’s easier to be angry than in pain. Easier to be aggressive than confront mortality. It’s something even more pervasive in human beings than funeral processions.
We pass by a yard sale on the way to the cemetery. People perusing tables filled with knick-knacks and used appliances and old clothes. A few miles from that, we pass a group of three girls in a front yard. Whatever game they were playing has been put on pause. All three watch us, hands on hips. They’re middle school aged, at the absolute oldest.
A procession so long and vast that we snake around multiple roads in the cemetery. As we park along the roadsides, an SUV attempts to pass by us. As we come in to lay our loved one to rest, they are coming out after visiting theirs.
The weather holds out for us: what was promising to be a cold and cloudy and drizzly day has stayed relatively warm and sunny. It is a sea of black around the new gravesite, around a casket with treble clefs carved into the corners (the smallest hint of his time as a drummer, his unyielding passion for music). A large crow flies overhead as the minister gives the final words. Some see crows as a bad omen. Death. Destruction. Disease and dis-ease. I see them as symbolic of change. Of fearlessness. They’re seen as spiritual guides in some cultures. One foot in our world, one foot in the other. They’re intelligent, resourceful creatures. In some ways, it is the perfect bird to be flying overhead.
It’s been a long and vast morning. I focus in on my sister. I focus in on my niece, on my sister’s youngest daughter. I lose my composure all over again. I’ve reached the point where I’m crying for the pain of those around me. It hurts because it hurts. It hurts because tragedy ripples out.
Rituals around death. Every culture has it. Every religion has them. Processions, prayers, tears. Flowers, music, food. Moments to pause. Moments to reflect. Moments to hold each other up because we all feel like collapsing. Moments to move forward with a little more reverence.
As a lone car in randomized traffic, my husband and I pass four more yard sales on our way to the funeral’s reception (how food permeates every ritual, big and small. Punctuating everything from weddings to funerals to meetings with this life-sustaining activity). People milling about in driveways, looking at someone else’s possessions, taking advantage of the unexpectedly nice weather. I look out, wondering how many people are looking in. Seeing two people with black clothes and tired faces. I wonder how their mornings are going. What’s on their minds. Is today as simple as finding a cheap, used bicycle — or is something else lingering in the background? What wars are being waged against their mortality, or at least against the fear of it?
Our highbeams and hazards are off. The little purple flag with FUNERAL in white letters has been removed. The morning signaled the start of something irrevocably different. And now we are removed from the procession, from our long, unbreakable line. A lone car in a sea of SUVs, pick-up trucks, sedans. Everyone going in all sorts of directions. Morning agendas blending into the afternoon’s. Yard sales and children playing and people annoyed by the delays in life.