While viewing the snowstorm blanketing southeastern Michigan today, I am in awe of the beauty I see out my window. The trees are shrouded in a cape of snow so white that I am almost blinded by the sight. The quiet “aloneness” is marred only by the scraping of the occasional snowplow. And then, there is the lone black, fluffy-tailed squirrel nibbling on the peanuts I placed on the patio. This cute little creature reminds me of how unique we are…unique in our love; unique in our talents; unique in our features; and unique in our grief.
As part of my grief work, I researched how other cultures handle grief and found some interesting facts. From the stoic, relatively unemotional Asian-American group to the more emotional ceremonies shown by grieving African-Americans; to the nine nights of saying the rosary after the death of a Hispanic-American to the seven days of mourning (sitting shiva) that is part of the Jewish observances; it is clear that we all have our ways of dealing with death and grief.
Part of my heritage is Native American and they view death as a reunion with nature. Some tribes call on the spirits of their ancestors to help the newly deceased to cross over. Native Americans believe that the spirit of the person never dies and gifts and sentimental items are buried with the person. They also believe that the spirit may be associated with a part of nature such as a particular animal, bird, plant or water. These symbols may be used as part of the funeral ritual. They also believe that it is important to bury their loved ones in their native homeland so they may join their ancestors. The symbolic reference to a circle is of major significance when Native Americans bury their loved ones.
After reading about the Native American ceremonies, I reminisced about my son’s funeral and couldn’t help but be amazed by some of the similarities, all of which were purely coincidental. I remembered “begging” my Uncle Alec and Grandmother Lizzie (both deceased and whom I had never met) to please be there to meet Tyler when he crossed over and help him feel safe and loved. I remembered Tyler’s friends adding special mementos to his casket at the funeral home and at the church before the service. Some of the items were notes, candles, music tapes and CD’s and one VCR tape of an Ace Ventura movie. My son’s #28 football jersey from his days playing junior football for the Walled Lake Braves was placed upon his lap…Once a Brave…Always a Brave.
I believe that my son’s spirit is associated with butterflies. The butterfly launch we held on the first anniversary of his passing was a mesmerizing and loving tribute to his life and spirit, complete with music, singing and prayer. We buried Tyler at the local cemetery in the town where he grew up so he could be close to his family and friends. As for the symbolic reference to a circle, I will never forget the sight of my son’s teammates and friends encircling his casket. They were urged to be “honorary pallbearers” by the funeral directors. As a group, they gently removed his coffin from the back of the hearse. That tight knit group of young men and women formed a true circle of love around Tyler as they transported him a few yards to his final resting place.
We grieve in our own unique way even as parts of our grief work fall into certain norms. The uniqueness of it all is: no rules…no right and wrong…no timeframes. My final thought to those of you that may be in “the club” – cherish every memory of your child, speak of your child often, and allow yourself the opportunity to enjoy the squirrels and the snowfall.