Attending a Funeral

October 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

I attended my CousinF’s funeral yesterday and promptly over ate chocolate when I got home. It has been awhile since I abused food and I was surprised the compulsion had re-surfaced. I could not put my finger on the cause of the trigger. It was more a composite of small activations leading to a critical mass of feeling ashamed and unworthy.

It is so strange to identify the feelings that I was filled with after this family event because there were so many overt gestures of love. It was a mixed bag, though, and there were plenty of non-gestures that indicated these gestures of love were also conditional.

CousinF did not have an easy life. He was a survivor of mental illness. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 19. It took decades before he was able to stabilize and find some measure of peace living in a group home. He was afflicted with mental illness, he was also afflicted with a skin condition, a speech impediment and was not particularly physically attractive. This combination of conditions meant that he was never able to find a life mate.

CousinF was gifted with great intelligence and a wonderful sense of humour. He had great life energy and a boisterous, playful attitude. He was kind and thoughtful. He read widely and loved the history of rock and roll. He was a truly loving man.

He was older than me by six years. I was a shy, introverted child in a family of six children. I felt overwhelmed by family gatherings when I would be consumed by fits of shyness. I wasn’t always shy. When I wasn’t self conscious I could fit right in and play with the best of them. But there was something about CousinF or CousinF’s family that made me self conscious and then I would become shy. CousinF was socially awkward, and it could be that I felt uneasy because he suffered the same mental illness that so profoundly affected my mother.

As I recall the funeral yesterday, I am able to identify my feeling of self consciousness. That I felt I was being watched and judged and I could not wholly relax because of this. I felt this tension of self consciousness and it made me aware of whether I was thinking or feeling the ‘right’ things. I cannot pinpoint the source of my self consciousness. It wasn’t my Uncle and Aunt, who were now processing the loss of their second child. It was others in the room, others who I did not know very well. I could ask myself, who did I feel was judging me? My estranged BrotherA, whom I had not seen for a very long time. Anyone else?

There was this subtext of body language at the funeral that was disconcerting. Tension. Standing off. I definitely picked up on that. There were also overt displays of conditional love, as the religious entity that gave structure to the funeral was clearly demarcating those where were members of the religion and those who were not.

I suppose I could list the main entities whose relational dynamics were contributing to my experience: the church and reception hall, the members of the church, the dictates of the religion, the funeral rites of the religion, CousinF’s FamilyB relational dynamics, my FamilyA relational dynamics, the structure of the program for the reception.

One key element I noticed as an absence was there was not one moment when the structure of events provided us with a moment to connect with our hearts, with our feelings, and with our loved ones, to feel the loss and to comfort each other in our grief.

It was just so very strange. There were all these formal and informal rituals carried out over the course of a couple of hours. And there was not one moment when we acknowledged the loss, when we expressed our feelings, and when we actually, overtly comforted each other for our loss. I would have thought that would be the most important thing to do at a funeral, or second most important after laying our loved one to rest. Instead there was this empty liturgy, devoid of feeling, completely anchored in intellectual ideas about our human relationship to a divine entity. But it went beyond that, I found the liturgy to be assuming and almost hectoring – lecturing me on my relationship to the mystery rather than compelling me or attracting me.

I guess it was these conflicting layers of experience – the church, the reception, and family dynamics, that led to an overall feeling of self consciousness, a sense that I did not belong and that I had to put on an act to be seen as belonging. I think that was the deepest source of my compulsion to eat too much chocolate when I got home. At the heart of it, I did not feel like I belonged, even as I knew that my presence at the funeral was very much appreciated and I would not have missed it for the world. I can say that this sense of not belonging, while knowing that my presence is essential, is the central conflict of my own battles for mental health.

It has been a long time since I abused food. This experience has shed light on this core incongruence of my experience in my family. Required to attend but not accepted for who I am.

Talk about emotional labor.


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