Trigger warning: This post also deals with suicide, death, grief. Please read with caution.
Twenty twenty and Twenty twenty-one were hard years on all of us. Grief and loss, loss and death and grief hit us all really hard, in different, uncontrollable, isolating ways. The isolation led and leads to fear and mistrust which leads to further isolation from other human beings. We are meant for community. Marilyn’s brother Barry was, in an obvious way, fighting for a community of homeless people when something went horribly, horrifically wrong.
Even though my Sweetie and I served with men who were homeless and either were or exhibited symptoms of mental illness I am going to only say that no matter what, this is complicated, that there is need for reform of how people with mental illness receive care, and that there is much to learn, and the learning process is often painful and dehumanizing.
For Marilyn Farquhar to share this experience of loss and grief so publicly is a call to discussion, to reform.
It is challenging at best that we have lost the ability to cope with the reality of death, and to permit each other to grieve the loss of someone so deeply loved, to death. When someone does grieve out loud we don’t know how to deal with it, to sit with them in grief.
Permit me for a moment to share two personal experiences:
The first: my grandad died when in 1976 less than a year after we moved back to Maine. I remember the rain pouring so hard I couldn’t see out the door. My dad came in, the look on his face was pained as best as my 6 year old mind understood, and told us that Grampa was gone. I don’t remember his words exactly however I do remember crying because I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk to Grampa again. At one of the local funeral homes was the wake for two full days and the funeral Mass and burial and I was at all or at least most of this because we really didn’t have a babysitter. The result, at least for me, is that death is a part of life and taking time together to share the stories of the person who has died is an essential part of grief. There are the mutually shared experiences during the funeral rites, for us as a family my Grampa said he would turn out the lights at the funeral home. One night the lights went out, with no explanation. No fuses were blown, and no lines were down. The family who runs that funeral home still remembers this.
The second: my Mother-in-Love made it clear she didn’t want a wake. Funeral Mass yes, but wake, no. My husband spent several days calling friends and family to let them know she’d passed away. He got to share those stories of her, hear the memories of her friends, those special times with her. He got to mourn his mom in a way that both honored her and recalled some of the beautiful experiences in her life. I can assure you this was hard. While honoring her wishes to not have a wake was important I learned something essential: wakes are not for the dead, they are for the living who need to know that they are not alone in their grief, and loss, and to have the opportunity to weep and mourn publicly. The way we often grieve now not only misses out on this opportunity, it also isolates us from one another.
Marilyn sharing her grief with us, mourning publicly is essential. It does, and should make us uncomfortable enough to rethink how we look at death and grief.
As an aside I’ve decided that if my husband dies before me I will have a funeral Mass here then road trip my way to and through some of our favorite places before placing his remains in the niche at the cemetery in NJ.
The quilting in the background of this quilt is stunning because it is the faces of people and perhaps faces of Barry as he grew up. This is one of the things that drew me in, asking me to contemplate this quilt, to look at the reality of what happened, that in this there are people who will miss Barry in deep and painful ways.
In one sense social media gives us a place to grieve and mourn. In one sense we are still sitting behind a screen crying on our own, isolated from the human touch we so desperately need and desire. We get to share those memories of the person we love, and don’t get to hear the laughter or see the tears of someone grieving with us.
I admire Marilyn not only for turning to quilting through her grief, but for taking the risk to put these quilts into a public venue. What Marilyn shares is the memory of her brother Barry, that he was loved deeply.