The respectfully hushed sound of shuffling feet was only briefly interrupted by the signal for the change of guard. Sitting with my laptop on my bed, I watched as thousands waited in line for their turn to say goodbye to the queen. Some held back tears, others allowed them to flow; some were quite stoic in their manner, yet all were there in one accord.
Each with their own story, they come, united in their grief as a nation, to mourn their queen's death. Yet, Queen Elizabeth II's death reverberates worldwide, surprising many with unexpected pangs of grief. Death has a way of tugging at hidden places, at deep memories, and perhaps even finding some unresolved grief.
I remember very clearly the day we buried my paternal grandmother. Watching my uncles dressed in black suits as they stood by their mother's graveside is a memory that remains forever etched in my heart. There was something comforting about seeing the family's elders conduct themselves through the rituals and ceremonies surrounding my grandmother’s death. I did not realize it at the time, but as I held my young sons close to me, my heart and mind were learning something about how to say goodbye. Family coming together to remember, mingling laughter and hugs with prayers and tears. The sorrow of the one leaving us tempered by the experience of shared grief. We were all together, old and young, a family in mourning, blessed by rituals shared with love.
As I have gotten older, I have attended fewer funerals than I would have expected. Even within Catholic families, many choose not to have a funeral Mass or even a service. Some, rather than a funeral, tell their loved ones they want a "celebration of life." They don't want people to wear black; they don't want people to be sad. Whatever the reasons behind these choices, I have always had the sense that we are missing something important when we disconnect our lives from the reality of death. For those of us who are Catholic, the richness of the funeral rites speaks truth amid confusion, turning darkness into light.
Our Holy Mother Church wants to accompany us in our times of sorrow and comfort us in our grief. As we allow our families and communities to be present for one another in their time of need, the burden is shared, and the heart is healed. These things can’t be hurried, and they can’t be ignored. It is a heavy burden to walk through life carrying grief unmourned.
Witnessing the ceremony around Queen Elizabeth II's passing, we have the opportunity to learn about making space and taking time to say goodbye. Let us allow ourselves to experience this moment in our shared humanity. And if some memories of unresolved grief come up, perhaps we can take this opportunity to bring them to the light of Christ; perhaps we need the time to properly say goodbye.