Friday, July 17, 2009

The Capacity of Hope

. .
I just went to the funeral of a five-month-old boy, the baby brother of one of my favorite students. I don't know the parents well, but the part of my brain where that fact is stored wasn't consulted when dread arrived on the scene. Between the day I first heard the news and the moment I arrived at the funeral home, dread had settled in, unpacked its bags and made itself good and comfortable. I've never exactly looked forward to a funeral, but there's a special brand of apprehension when it's the funeral of a child, a funeral no one should have to attend.

I set my brain on Hi and I waited, and hoped. I hoped that if I thought long and hard enough I might find words that would offer solace, but those words haven't been invented yet. I hoped that if I really tried to imagine their pain, I might come up with a gesture that could ease it for a moment, but again the bar was too high. So I headed to the visitation with a goal I thought I could actually pull off: Just be there so Ahkeem knows I love him. That, I could manage.

My brain had done its homework and ushered me into the funeral home well-prepared. The air was heavy with sadness, tears, impotent words of condolence and offers of help that would never be fulfilled. All the things I had been braced for. The open casket threw me a curve ball, but I cried only the appropriate amount and managed to get out without saying anything regrettable.

My brain, however, was unarmed for the task of prepping me for the funeral. It could find sadness and loss in its files, but what was coming at the church was not a part of the database. The funeral was held at a black Southern Baptist church. I am currently submitting applications to become Southern Baptist, and black. It, was amazing.

My only clue of what was to come was the line in the obituary where the family requested that guests wear bright colors, not all black. Now, it makes perfect sense: this was not an occasion for mourning, it was a celebration of life. The music, the words, the atmosphere were all laced with jubilation. There was sadness, sure, but the degree to which it was offset by joy was totally unexpected. How could there be anything in this room but grief and misery? I pre-set my dial to Grief and Misery mode. But this, I didn't even have a setting for.

So I sat back and watched, a marshmallow bobbing feebly in a pot of boiling hot cocoa. I watched the family, so numerous they filled the entire center section of the church. When the preacher said they shouldn't question God, their agreement was unanimous. When he said God had a plan, their acknowledgment was loud and clear. When he said they'd see their baby again in heaven, they shouted their belief so wholeheartedly they left no room for doubt. And that's when I understood.

I went just hoping to give Ahkeem a hug.

I left with a completely different hope: I don't believe in heaven today, but I hope by the time I need to, I will.
. .


Tanya said...

I can only hope that when faced with such grief that I can be like this family. Impossible to think about what would get us through losing a child.

What an amazing thing you witnessed.

Judy said...

Susan Ann, my sweet marshmallow,
again you made me weep. Of course there's a Heaven. Didn't your parents teach you anything?

I do hope you find a way to get some of your blogs published. I think you're brilliant.

Rene said...

Susan - you are an amazing person! I am so glad to know you and call you a friend. You did a wonderful thing by being there for Akheem and his family. That is more than enough! Love You!

Susan said...

Awww . . . Rene, don't you worry. If you kick, I will totally be there for Samuel, too.