A final goodbye: Mothers should never have to bid their child the final goodbye.

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Today I looked into the face of the worst kind of loss. A mother’s loss of her son. It was heart-rending. And got me thinking. Here is a woman whose life has been changed forever. Not only because of her loss, but because of all her losses and the reality of the pain her entire family is about to experience, for she is also a stage 4 cancer patient.I attended the funeral of her adult son. I was never given the pleasure of meeting him, but I went because I always believed that you attend a funeral for those who remain. I had shared a brief period in her life, and wanted her to know that she had support, even if I barely knew her. She has been touched with such tragedy, it is hard to comprehend, and without the support of those whose lives have crossed paths, how can she be expected to survive the pain and loss?

The pain

My daughter and I stood in an over-flowing church, when I began to wonder about the process. Despite being an atheist, there is something comforting about the ritual. You get a chance to grieve. But, are you grieving for her loss, or many of your own? For the fear you have of your own losses, or for a life brought to an untimely end – with no one and nothing to blame? The funeral took an hour and a half, consisted of readings, prayers, agonisingly painful music and all I could think was no matter when it ended, it was going to have been all too brief for the family. As sad as it was, when it ended, that would be the last goodbye. It would be over. He’d be gone for good. If it were me, I’d be willing to stay in that church forever. I wouldn’t want the ceremony to end. As the priest was winding down, he closed his sheaf of papers, and it felt like he slammed closed one’s heart. A gesture that felt like his life was summarily done.

On a regular basis through the whole experience, for reasons I cannot fathom, I burst into tears. I cried for the potential that was so abruptly taken. I cried for a mother’s pain and loss. I cried for her family and their imminent loss of their mother and wife. I cried because it was the saddest situation. I cried for no real reason. I cried for my own beautiful, loving, healthy, talented daughter and son.

I held my little girl’s hand, and her smile as she looked up at me made me wonder how any mother can survive such a loss. I think my heart would turn to stone and stop pumping. I can’t imagine not feeling her soft hand, caressing her childish cheek, kissing the top of her head. I can still feel my babies’ weight on my chest moments after they were born – they have left permanent impressions.

She must still have the imprint of his newborn weight on her heart.

It got me thinking, watching this ceremonial ritual of the final goodbye, about my own final goodbye. I live in a country that is predominantly Catholic. This got me wondering what options do those who aren’t religious have when it comes to your own funeral. Are we able to have our own party? Do we just get shovelled into the furnace unceremoniously? Are we allowed to “use” the local church but without all the god and Jesus talk? We need the ceremony. We need the ritual. We need the tradition. We need the chance to grieve for another and ourselves in an approved place and at an approved time, without fear of mockery or questioning our grief. What are your plans? Do you hope your funeral will have standing place only? Do you want something small and quick or big with fanfare? For those you leave behind, have you thought about how you’d like them to say their final goodbye to you? Do you care? And if you don’t, I suggest you attend the funeral of a 23 year-old young man, full of promise, love, and hope.

Editted to add: I wrote this almost 2 years ago. Since then, this brave woman, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend has joined her son. I wish the family the strength and courage to carry on. I will always remember her bravery in the face of a terrible disease, where sometimes the “cure” is worse than the illness. 


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