An angry sort of pain
Today, we buried my step-mother.
And I’m angry.
Not angry because she died. Not angry because of the illness that precipitated her death. Not angry at any number of things that I will probably be angry about at some time in the future, distant or otherwise, while going through the stages of grief.
I’m angry primarily because of the funeral service. Or as the Quakers call it, a “memorial meeting”. They don’t have a church, they have a meeting house. They don’t have services, they have meetings.
Prior to today, I would have said that Quakers were the most sane of all the christian religions. I had attended Sunday school there as a teenager (aged 13 until 17, when I figured out how to get out of going without pissing off my father). I had even once or twice attended a meeting with the adults. I thought they were the most boring things ever. But I thought that was because I’d been brought up in pentecostal, methodist, baptist and other denominations (my mother flitted around from church to church), and had a biased view.
Today, my opinion was changed, and not for the better. I’m now wondering who the sadistic fuck was who came up with this idea of how to remember a loved one. If I had a time machine, I’d travel back in time to punch him or her squarely in the gut. What I experienced today was easily the most brutally painful memorial service of my life.
They even print out a pamphlet to warn people about what they’re about to experience, and leave many them sitting a couple feet apart on the benches, along with a travel-sized package of tissues. Ok, the tissues were a nice touch, I’ll give them that. The pamphlet reads:
“The Religious Society of Friends holds as the basis of its faith the belief that every human being is endowed with a measure of the Divine Spirit which may be directly experienced. Our manner of worship embodies this belief. We gather in quiet assemblies, mindful of the words: “Be still, and know that I am God.” We come together in reverent silence with the desire to draw nearer to God and to understand God’s will.
For Friends a memorial meeting is similar in many ways to a meeting for worship. It is not only a time for sharing feelings of loss, but a time for celebrating the life of the departed person. We reflect on the value of that life as it relates to the lives of all of us.
All present share in the is process. We sit quietly; at times an individual may be moved to speak, to offer a prayer or a message that has come out of the silence. All are welcome to do this.
The responsibility for the spiritual depth of the meeting rests with each attender. Those who keep silent as well as those who give a vocal message do their part when they yield their minds and hearts to the guidance of the Spirit.
Friends hope that in the meeting for worship a consciousness of the Divine Presence will be felt by every attender, and will be a source of direction, strength and comfort after leaving the meeting.”
Let me be perfectly clear. For those who have chosen this religion, and who choose to attend weekly meetings, this might be of some comfort for them. But for the rest of us, it’s downright painful.
The magnitude of how painful is not fully comprehended by just reading the warning pamphlet. It sounds nice, even quaint, to the reader. The reality is very different. I’ll now attempt to convey the awfulness of it.
When the meeting starts, there are a dozen or more elders seated on benches facing the rest of the room. Not one of them appeared to be under the age of 60. Men and women with nametags. It felt very imposing. Sort of like a jury, and we were all defendants being judged. I don’t even know what their purpose was, or why they were sitting in this position of authority over the rest of us.
One of the women rose to speak to the room, which, by the way, was packed with about 100 friends and family. She explained how things would proceed, and laid out what can only be described as rules to be followed. We were to sit in silence unless someone felt compelled to speak. After a person spoke, we had to allow a few minutes of silence in order to let everyone “reflect” on their words. No exact number of minutes were given, and I naively assumed that it was meant that up to a minute – 2 minutes, tops – would pass between speakers.
Oh how wrong I was! In the 75 minutes that this meeting lasted, only 7 people stood up to speak. Between each speaker was at least 5 minutes of dead silence. The kind of silence that makes your ears ring, because it’s so loud. The kind of silence that makes you aware of the beating of your own heart, and occasionally the beating of the heart of the person sitting next to you. The kind of silence where every breath is heard, every shuffle of body on seat and foot on floor. And not a comfortable silence, either! It was an incredibly painful silence. The kind of pain where you realize that many other people might have gotten up to speak, had they not felt so intimidated by the silence.
It was brutal. In my head, I shifted between willing someone, anyone!, to get up and speak, and just wanting it to be over. I knew my father intended to stand up and speak, because he had printed out what he wanted to say and was holding it for the majority of the time. I don’t know what he was thinking during all that silence, but I imagine it didn’t feel very good for him to sit for such long periods in abject silence, wondering if the reason nobody stood to speak was because they didn’t have anything to say. I wish I could have whispered some words of comfort to him, but a whisper would have sounded like a megaphone, and I wasn’t sure if the elders would reprimand me for disturbing the silence.
I figured (correctly) that he was waiting to be the last person to say something. I assumed that when he was done, he would end the meeting by telling everyone to go into the next room for refreshments and socialization. I was wrong. He sat back down, and left it to the elders to dictate what came next, whenever they felt enough silence had passed.
When one elder finally did stand and address the room, I was starting to feel almost panicky, as if she was going to tell us that we had to sit until a specified time before we would be allowed to leave, or if we’d be allowed to leave. This feeling wasn’t unwarranted. Before the meeting even started, my Husband received an emergency phone call (my girls were involved in a car accident) and had to leave. He returned just before my father stood to speak. When he moved to walk in and resume his seat next to me, one of the elders, stationed at the back of the room, grabbed his arm and told him he couldn’t enter. I watched this unfold in utter astonishment.
What the hell kind of person keeps someone from going to their loved ones at a time like this?! I have been to far too many funerals in my life, and never have I seen someone be physically restrained and told they couldn’t enter. NEVER!
As soon as we were given permission to leave (after another “moment” of silence), I bolted out of the room. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I didn’t even take the time to turn and hug my father, I was so freaked out and angry. I wasn’t alone, either. Many people rushed out of there, either to the adjoining room where refreshments were being served, or outside.
I spoke to one of my step-sisters a little while later, and partially confided in her how excruciatingly painful the whole thing was. I jokingly told her that, when my father died, if this was the kind of “service” he wanted, that I’d kill him all over again! I never, ever want to experience anything like that again in my lifetime!
At some point, I will have to discuss this with my father. I’m not sure exactly how to bring up the subject, or when, so if any of my readers have any advice, I’d be happy to hear it! Has anyone ever experienced anything like this before? Is this typical of all Quaker memorial meetings, or was this an anomaly? Is it something I should bring to the attention of the elders?
All I know right now is that I feel my step-mother was robbed of a beautiful memorial service. I’m angry. And that’s not how a person should feel after a memorial service.