This past week, I traveled back to Buffalo for a funeral. I didn’t mind the four days of driving (except, of course, for the two hours spent in whiteout conditions two days ago), because long drives usually send my mind in odd directions. Whether it’s the scenery, a phrase in a John Coltrane piece, a line of poetry I’ve read or even a story on NPR, lines will come to me. They can be pretty random, so I record them on my phone to process later. Sometimes a poem is completed while I’m driving. Between the long distance drives and short trips around Western New York, I was able to write four poems, which is good for me. Something positive came out of the trip.
Not that there was no positive aspect of the trip. It was one I wanted to make. It allowed me to see my children for the second time in a month (I had flown there to visit between Christmas and New Years Day), and, more importantly, I was able to pay my respects to an aunt whom I had known for most of my life.
I always have to remind myself that the purpose of a wake (“viewing”) and funeral service is to celebrate a life that has ended. Grief has the ability to abduct all of our senses and direct them towards the loss we are facing. The very immediate family is in the middle of a storm that seems endless. Having been there, I understand that perfectly. Conversations about family, particularly about my aunt, gave me an opportunity to offer comfort and support.
Immediately after the funeral service, I wrote a poem to help channel my emotions. It’s what I do. My son and I have shared poetry in the past. After he traveled home (a three hour, plus, drive), he sent a poem to me, explaining that he needed the extra time to process his thoughts. I’m able to read his emotions in the poem – I think more than I was able to during the memorial – and I realize that my own are evident in the poem that I wrote, even with my spare style. Except for a couple of very brief moments, I was able to stay fairly reserved during the wake and funeral. I thought that was important, being there to offer comfort.
I arrived home yesterday, and I went back to read both poems this morning – mine and my son’s – and the full weight of loss struck me. It wasn’t something I had focused on during the long trip home. It would have made the drive more difficult. Being past the window of a hectic week was what I needed to process the loss of someone who meant so much to me.