We Are Here, Beautiful

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M_Saskia

Not long ago, I attended the funeral of a stranger.

Several women and I gathered at the train station on a Friday evening and travelled to another city to attend together.

We went because a friend-of-a-friend’s husband had a stroke suddenly while in the Netherlands and had been in a coma. They took him off of the machines and, while he still breathed, he did not wake.

His wife had a passport, but no one else in her family did. So she flew over to Europe from India, alone.

We were connected to her because no one should be alone through that. A friend had asked if anyone could visit her at the hospital while she sat by his bedside. I had planned to go but, before I could, her husband passed away.

She asked if we would come to the funeral instead.

Had it been in her home country, family and friends–their daughter, his parents, the ones who had loved him his whole life–would have surrounded her, dressed in white with the sounds and colours and smells of home.

Instead, on a cold, wet, and dark winter evening, she sat in the midst of a handful of European mourners soberly dressed. Bollywood music played in the background, a Hindu priest struggled to speak in English, and people brought flowers. I remember thinking, what will she do with these flowers? She won’t fly back with them. I suppose when faced with an immense loss, we feel like we need to arrive with something to fill the emptiness.

Some in the room had known her husband from having studied with him over the last few months. There was a single family member in attendance. Another man said he came because his cousins are from the same town and they asked him to attend the funeral.

It was an uncomfortable experience.

Our faith tells us to care for the orphans and widows in their distress. The concept can live in the abstract until it is a painful reality. Then, it looks like showing up in order to make sure that someone would.

We filed around the body, which was lovingly dressed in traditional clothes and we laid fresh flowers next to him. All the while, we were painfully aware of his young widow’s distress–so thick in the air, it felt tangible.

We went to stand witness to her sorrow because the idea of not witnessing it, of having her go through this process alone and unseen, was so unimaginable. We went to acknowledge the depth of her heartache. We went to see.

An acquaintance once told me that he had to believe that God was involved in the finite details in order to feel significant and loved. I told him I would rather think of a less involved God because there were too many tragedies that an intimately involved God could have changed one detail of and thereby reduced a great deal of suffering.

The care of widows and orphans is so much easier to fit inside a religion of an involved God when they live in the realm of an abstract and far away reality, rather than in the tangible and seemingly unnecessary suffering of a widow in a room of strangers.

And yet, it is the intimate knowledge of suffering that propelled me to attend the funeral in the first place. It is the fact that Kylee, one of my nearest and dearest friends, has gone through the loss of both her husband and a child. She has allowed me into her grief, and allowed my own grief; the laughter and tears, the anger and misplaced words. Seeing her sorrow has drawn me to others who are grieving. She has taught me the value of being present.

The refugee crisis continues to rock our continent. I can’t help but think of all the orphans and widows arriving on our shores … all these people who need to be seen. So many who will not get to hold a proper funeral or space for their loved ones who did not survive the journey. No time to grieve their homes, their country, and the life they once knew. I can be overwhelmed by the need to see it all, to not ignore their losses.

Truthfully, I can’t bare it. I feel like we are failing our mandate to care and yet I am incapable of mitigating this suffering.

Perhaps, for this moment, acknowledging that there is a crisis is what I need to do.

And perhaps, I can see just the one grieving woman placed in front of me, for this moment in time.

I see you, Beautiful.
I see your broken heart.
I know those who have also suffered and echo this grief.
I know you feel alone in this room. But we are here.

Even if that is all we can do. We are here.

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