Whenever I pass those grand arches that decorate the outside edifice of the Friendship Baptist Church where my dad was funeralized, I feel a physical jolt of grief. My body remembers the pain of the four-year-old me, that little mourning boy who yearned to see Dad one last time. I avoid passing by the church so that I don't bring back memories.
"Take him out before he sees the coffin."
This sentence was my earliest remembrance of how to deal with death. I recall being four years old and being rushed past the pews quickly to avoid seeing my father's body as it rolled down the aisle. I remember seeing several faces as I was handed over the benches. I think that was when I started to identify death or anything that surrounds it as secretive and mystical. When the ones we love die, they disappear, and nobody knows anything—they are just gone.
Most often, our earliest remembrances dictate how we handle or deal with loss in our adult lives. I hated funerals, I hated disappointment, and typically any loss. I would often think, even as a kid, that we would do a great job with the aesthetics of the funeral and the deceased body. I would often hear people say, "Who got the body?" as if at that moment, the recently departed had been reduced to an inanimate object—almost an immediate disconnection to deal with the pain and loss. We would spend hours picking out clothing, making sure we looked good, and never processing the pain or talking about feelings. However, on the day of the funeral, you were allowed to have dramatic expressions of the pain in the funeral (shouting, hollering, explosive crying). Still, after that, you generally never heard anything else. This is typical in my Black community, where so little is often done towards healing the soul after the loss.
We didn't talk about my father when he died, but we had a wonderful repass after the funeral made for kings and queens. There was fried chicken, potato salad, greens, cornbread, and tons and tons of sodas to feast on. I recall these being the best parts of the funerals I attended. You got to overeat. I think of the correlation of how the food is symbolic of how we mask the pain. We reach for, eat, take, or submerge ourselves in things and stuff. However, we never talked anymore about the funeral after that day.
I recently had a session with my therapist a few days ago, and she helped me make sense of many of my unspoken feelings. Often, our bodies resist those painful experiences because those hurts have been buried very deeply. I cried like the four-year-old that just lost his Dad as we processed my grief story.
When it comes to your grief, how are you burying the pain? My therapist suggested that I try exposure therapy. This is where I expose myself to those triggering spots related to grief (pictures, jewelry, clothing, certain streets, etc.) and try not to avoid them regarding pain. You don't do it all at once, but you do it gradually.
Please don't try to avoid the pain for those hurting this holiday season, but sit in that place if you need to. Expose yourself if you need to. Put out pictures, take out the clothing and allow yourself to grieve. Take breaks when needed and know that holidays don't have to look the same this year. Give yourself grace.
For more helpful tips to get through this holiday, visit my website and purchase my book, Buried Messages. If you don't need it, pass it on to someone else going through their grief journey.