The Third Week of Lent, 2021

Mar 4, 2021

Sunflowers

We buried our mother on Saturday. She was 69 years old. While we knew her illness would take her early, we were not prepared for it to take her soon. That is, if there really is any way to prepare oneself for a parent’s death.

I watched my husband, brother, cousins, and nephews carry the coffin, and thought how heavy it must feel for a grandson to shoulder his nana while mourning her loss at the same time. They placed her, gently.

My godparents walked with me from the car to the gravesite. I felt like I was 8 years old. We don’t realize the pillars holding up our foundation until life starts kicking them out from under us. We didn’t hug because of the pandemic.

The priest was compassionate. I didn’t hear his words because I couldn’t focus enough to listen. But his voice was kind and his eyes were soft, and really that’s what I needed. 

My sister and I walked to the left of the coffin, where the priest had spoken. We had been here before, she and I, over the years having buried the parts of our childhood that weren’t meant to be. But on this day, the black coats were for our mother. 

Our mother. I looked at the garden roses, the sunflowers, the long trailing greens we had chosen for her and wondered, how could it be that she is here and also not here? We put people in these boxes, but people don’t fit inside of boxes. Not really.

Sister and I acknowledged our grief, offering our brokenness. We shared memories—collective and personal—and made space for mourning. We tried to convey with words things that are impossible to convey with words. 

Then, silence. 

A path had been cleared in the snow from our mother’s casket to our maternal grandparents’ gravesite, eight plots across. A groundskeeper had done this without us knowing, when he discovered that they were buried nearby. He had opened the way for us in case we needed to let words fall away with our grandparents, too. It was an extraordinary act of mercy. I wept.

I don’t yet know how to shoulder this grief. But I know that even pain—especially pain—is an opportunity for even deeper grace.

– Kathryn Yingst