What remains when something's lost

I didn’t know the person who died well, but I cried throughout her funeral. I didn’t sit in the front; I sat on the side, toward the back. I didn’t wail uncontrollably or gasp the air; I just let the tears slick down my face. Why this reaction at the funeral of a woman I hardly knew?

The woman lived across the street from me. She worked hard in her yard, and when I moved to the neighborhood, I stopped on my walk and introduced myself. She spoke with a lovely British accent, and she congratulated me and my husband on our recent marriage, and talked about the people she knew who also knew my husband. From then on, we did not talk much, if at all, but I would often walk by when she held a spade in her hand, when she was weeding or watering her yard, or stepping out of her car or getting into it. We waved at each other and smiled, and that was all. But she had a daughter, who also lived in my neighborhood, just a few more houses down from her mother. This daughter mowed her mother’s lawn faithfully, week after summer week, pushing her way across the uncut lawn. And if there was a storm or power outage, the daughter appeared at her mother’s home. She showed up often, to visit, to check in. The daughter waved to me. She remarked on the hot weather. She was at her mother's home often, a constant reminder that her mother was loved.

I, too, am a daughter who dearly loves her mother, though she does not live down the street from me. But if I lost my mother, when I lose my mother, I will curl into a ball and my tears will not be quiet or kept. At the funeral, I thought about what it would be like to be this daughter, and this thought, this misfortune, knocked on my chest, asked me what could be.

But that is not the only reason I cried, although that would be enough to set me off for some time. I also thought—as I do in churches, when sitting in hard pews and holding hymnals—about God, about devotion, about what it meant to be alive. I thought about the grace I had been given: to have my health, my faithful husband, my family—including my father and my mother still—and my life. These thoughts broke open in my chest. 

They did not used to. When I was younger, I did not cry at funerals—I did not go to many funerals, really—and I certainly never cried at weddings, for these were joyous occasions. But after a particularly hard and unexpected breakup, I became a person who teared up at nearly anything that involved even the slightest hint of love: a pet reuniting with its owner, two elderly people holding hands. Cereal and McDonald’s commercials just about killed me. But I also became a person who cried with gratitude.

I don’t know what changed after that breakup, if by losing something I thought I would never lose, I began to see clearly what I had not lost, and how what remained was immense. 

The funeral was at the Catholic Church, and the priest—a young, kind-hearted man who has a calm presence and a gentle way of speaking—gave the eulogy and then Communion. I walked up with the rest of the congregation, and although I could not take Communion (I am not Catholic), I wanted a blessing. I crossed my arms across my chest, and the priest looked up as I approached, gave a hint of recognition with the slightest smile, and blessed me.

Afterward, I stood next to my husband back in our pew, and I leaned into him. I felt grateful that I could. And of course, I could not help it: I cried.