Attending a funeral is never easy. During a funeral service, it can be expected that the church will pack up to a decent sized number of people. All of these people are paying their respects and mourning the loss of the deceased person. Whether or not the person was old or young, dying or suddenly snatched from life, funerals are always a sad occasion and it shouldn’t be unusual for even the entire congregation to weep. Why then is the shedding of tears only the responsibility of close family members and maybe life long friends? Why should it be that a perfectly natural act such as crying be withheld to only a certain number of people?
I lost a close family member, an aunt, who was like my own mother but was also the mother of my closest first cousins and the wife of my father’s only surviving sibling. All in all, we were and still are a pretty close group. The death wasn’t unexpected but I first realised that it was on the cards weeks before it happened. Shock is not a strong enough word to cover my reaction. I cried in my room in college at the thought of someday never being able to see this person again. When she finally did pass, I was in bed surrounded by my sisters and I cried. Proper, out loud, hand torn heart, red nose, puffed up, sore eyes crying. We all did.
When I had to visit the house where she lived, I made it through the whole evening of the wake with what felt like a cricket ball lodged in my throat. I constantly batted back tears and I noticed that I wasn’t the only member of my own family that was doing it. I remember that the sight of the coffin passing through the kitchen and leaving out the back door was the nasty trigger that began my sobs that evening. Yet, as soon as I started, I didn’t seek one of her children to hug or even any of my own family. I just turned around and stared down the drain of the sink that stood behind me. I forced myself to concentrate on the bits of lettuce and pasta that were lodged and I wondered whether there was food stuck there that had been prepared by my aunt before she died. The same thought kept on racing through my head ‘she isn’t your mother, you don’t deserve to cry’. Even though I had a vague idea that this belief was nonsense, I still couldn’t cry comfortably.
The same thing happened at the funeral. Her sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and husband all wept, without conscience or consideration for who saw them. Which of course was the right thing to do.
All I could do was stare up at the bright lights hanging from the ornate ceiling in order to prevent the salted beads from rolling down my make-up enhanced cheekbones, over my bitten lips and falling to the floor to be heard by everyone. My logic remained the same as the day before, ‘she is not your mother, you don’t deserve to cry’. Something, or more rightly someone had obviously motivated this thought. Many times during funerals that I had attended during the years, there was always a feeling of resentment and distaste against any person who physically mourned the death of somebody who was not their next of kin or partner in life. Thoughts, for example, like ‘they didn’t even hang around each other that much’ or ‘they are so selfish to look for attention at a time like this’ circulated during the service either in the minds or in the conversations of those who believed them to be true.
I found myself believing these thoughts despite it being the first time that I had experienced the loss of somebody vital, important and truly loved by me. Whenever I hear a story about my aunt now, I find the same thoughts returning and while some tears may slip down, they are highly resented by me and I make sure to keep them a secret. I remind myself that only on the occasion when a member of my immediate family passes, can I cry without hiding it.
When did crying at funerals become a privilege afforded only to a small number of people and why is the level of mourning determined by how close the relative or friend is to the deceased? More importantly, why do so many of us believe this to be correct?