I ask myself, “How can this be?” I sit in the front pew of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, apprehensively awaiting the start of the funeral mass for my youngest child. My husband is by my side; my children and their families surround me acting as the protective glue that keeps me cemented to my sanity.
This is the parish of my children’s youth. Their religious and elementary school education took place on this block nestled within a working class neighborhood of tree-lined boulevards and older city homes. As I observe the familiar statues gracing each side of the sanctuary, everyday thoughts and images fill my mind providing fleeting relief from the reality of why we are here. I think about it being a typical summer day for Erie. Thunderstorms are predicted for later in the afternoon, well after the funeral will end.
I silently ponder over why the air is always so stale in church even though there are fans churning high overhead. I wonder if my children are reminiscing about their early childhood rites of passage played out within these walls. Does Wayne remember when the nuns were so pleased he played Stairway to Heaven at a school event while the young lay teachers sat in the audience remembering hearing this same song at the local hot spot? Luckily, it was an instrumental rendition with no words to reveal the meaning of the song. Does Ed remember trying to lower the flag on a windy day when all of a sudden he became airborne? Does Le`Anne remember her first day of kindergarten? Do they remember Melanie’s first communion? I remember it all.
The priest is not someone we know from our past connection to the church. He asked what he could say about our daughter, Melanie. I told him we have a eulogy; we will say the words to honor her life. He sadly reveals he does more funerals then baptisms nowadays, revealing the signs of an aging neighborhood.
I turn around in the pew and notice the extended families of my previous two husbands. I spot friends from work, as well as friends who are on the same spiritual path. I also notice a few people I can’t place. The combined spiritual presence of all these people creates a spiritual bond of love and support that I can feel, and desperately need, at this time. I realize that the church acts as a broker to provide group support for our spiritual quests and sadness. Fortunately, any leftover negative feelings from my former two husbands have been expunged and oblation obtained. We gather here in peace to celebrate the short 23 years of Melanie’s life.
As the people enter the church, an inspirational song is playing in the background. Everything seems surreal, unconnected. This is just a dream, right? I’ll wake up and everything will be as before. But, I am awake and it’s not a dream.
If real life were like the movies, this is the spot where I would be tying up all the loose ends to bring about resolution. But it isn’t…and I can’t. There isn’t a neat package to be wrapped. In my journey to seek the truth of Melanie’s death, I had to take a journey within myself. If I didn’t understand and accept what was inside of me, how could I understand anything else?
We all come to that fatal instant moment…when something bad happens…and we can’t turn back the clock. Right after Melanie’s death, I wanted the answers to everything. Now I respect the fact that I can’t have all the answers.
I learned through the teachings of Twylah Nitsch how to become spiritually prepared for the storms that come my way. She taught me how to charge my battery for those times when I have to go the extra mile. Knowing the Creator’s love is within all of us has brought comfort during the tempest and produced the Afterglow .
When one doesn’t accept their self-worth, they tend to experience the world with an egotistical view. They are fearful that others will see them as lacking. Twylah’s teachings lead to self-acceptance and a sense of self-worth. This leads to being more accepting of others because we are more accepting of ourselves.
In retrospect, I can understand why I was attracted to the nature based Native American way of healing. As a child, I was instinctively drawn to Mother Nature. She comforted my soul and dried my tears. I walked in her flowered woods and sat under her stately shady trees. I still visit the trees of my youth and thank them for their help. My granddaughter, Morgen, has found a tree friend near my father’s grave which is located in the cemetery I played in as a child. Morgen asks, “When we can go back to visit my friend?”
In the years that have passed since Melanie’s passing, I have learned that grief changes shape. I have learned that it can be transformed and instead of feeling pain and confusion, we are together in memory; there is solace and pleasure there, not just loss. Life is precious. It is worthwhile.