I recently attended the funeral of a stranger. A friend of mine had died and once his service was over, I wasn’t in the mood to leave. So I wandered over to where some other people were gathering to mourn the passing of a person I had never met.
No one asked who I was. No one assumed I didn’t actually know the person who had died – and what would it have mattered? Standing there among the strangers in grief, I too found myself thinking about the man in the casket. I listened to the eulogies and recited silent words in prayer for those he’d left behind. I stood in solidarity with those both present and departed.
The truth is that I’ve always been one to attend the funerals of people I don’t know very well (or at all). Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to make light of death or the pain those left behind are forced to endure. Quite the opposite. I understand that funerals can be excruciating. But I also understand that my presence isn’t one that radiates a great deal of emotion. And that without that emotion, the dead are often less frightening.
Without the crushing weight of grief, the experience of a funeral can be profound. It provides the ideal environment for conscious awareness. All of life’s emotions are there, but you aren’t experiencing them. You are merely a witness. What’s more, you are invisible. No one is wondering who you are or what you are doing because they are too caught up in their own emotional experience. There is no time or space. Everything is … now.
I’d like to think that my presence at these services is helpful to those left behind. Although I never speak to them or engage in any way, I try and give back by soaking in as much negative energy as I can and replacing it with peace. For those in mourning, there is no escape at a funeral. Every expression reflects sympathy. Every face reflects their grief – except mine. I’m a silent witness. A transient supporter. My only goal is peace.
It’s typical for me to linger after a funeral – sometimes for hours – but not that day. I was late. So I waited until everyone else had gone and then began my race to the car. It had started to rain so I took off my shoes to make better time.
Looking back on it, I realize I must have looked like a lunatic that night as I sprinted through the gates of the cemetery. But I had lost track of time and was determined to make it up to the man who was waiting for me. So off I went racing through the streets of LA – my hair wet, a black veil across my face, and flowers in hand on loan from the dead.