Preamble: Reflecting on my Reflections
Sometimes, the grief doesn’t quite feel real. It feels uncanny, foggy and distant. At other times, the grief feels awfully real; raw, unceasing and relentless in its pursuit of our attention.
After first learning of Rick’s death, I experienced a wide range of emotions. The day I learned about Rick’s passing from his sister was obviously a pretty difficult one. On other days, the grief came and went in waves. But the sorrow hit me extra hard in those moments where I had to “speak the grief” into the world. Whether that meant telling friends in person, emailing or texting others, posting some personal words alongside the funeral details on Facebook, the awful truth of Rick’s death felt awfully “real” whenever I spoke the grief. Indeed, strangely enough, it felt as if “speaking the grief” gave the grief its birth, form and being…just as the breath, life and spirit of our friend left to go elsewhere.
The sharing or speech that I prepared for Rick’s funeral has been just one of my many responses to the grief, alongside the obvious moments of tears, shock, questions and frequent bouts of nostalgia in memoria.
Now, as I re-read what I’ve written in this post, a lot of these words below do feel, in part, like an oddly timed “intellectual exercise” or “academic excursion” . But perhaps escaping a little bit into my ivory-towered brain with a philosophical musing here is yet another route along my grief journey that I must walk through right now. Given my background in universities of all different sorts, shapes and sizes, it makes a lot of sense that part of me would want to cope with grief in a more intellectual way too. But maybe I’m being too hard on myself too. Whatever the case, it’s clear that this process of writing-in-of-itself, no matter the reason, tone, vibe, argument or theme, is yet another kind of healing that I need right now, in response to my grief for Rick’s loss. I haven’t yet discovered the particular gifts from this particular experience of grief just yet, but if you’re really needing inspiration at the moment, you might want to try one of my older reflections about the gifts of grief.
Still, I’d like to think that I’ve suggested some interesting ideas in this post, so I’d love it if you have the time to stick around. At minimum, you’ll get a glimpse into my inner process and how I sometimes “work through” my feelings in my head and heart. I do it in different ways, depending on what it is. But you’ll get a peek into how I have prepared my sharing at the funeral and continue to process some of the feelings I’ve had in regards to Rick’s death.
Seven days after the funeral (as of this writing), I haven’t really had a chance to really stop, sit down, and reflect on the aftermath of all that until now.
At best, these reflections and musings will absolutely blow your mind and completely transform your life and convince you to invite me out to an expensive steak dinner.
Musings: On My Speech for Rick’s Funeral
As is the case for many funerals, there’s a kind of implicit sorrow that often surrounds the one who has passed away. Especially so if they left us at a younger age. So, for myself, I couldn’t help but feel this pervasive grief over Rick’s death at 41 years old. Like an unending, slow, droning bass-line in a musical piece, this persistent sorrow over the thought of Rick’s unlived life and unfulfilled dreams kept playing in my own process of grief and his loss. Perhaps a similar, droning sorrow played through part of the vast grief that likely swept through Rick’s family as well.
Together, and in honour of the family’s wishes, we decided to thematically centre the funeral on those elements and themes that often find themselves playing out in Western, Christian-oriented funerals. We focused on celebration in tribute of Rick’s life within our collective memory and invited all who attended to remember our friend from a lens of flourishing and the life well-lived.And through Scripture (Psalm 23) and Song (10,000 Reasons-Matt Redman), we focused on the Presence of God through Rick’s life and the eternal hope and peace that our particular language of faith expresses for Rick’s life beyond this one.
To be quite honest though, while drafting this sharing/speech, part of me wanted to linger for a while on those far more sorrowful elements that often characterize our grief. Part of me wanted to more actively engage the more devastating aspects of grief. These aspects involve the emotions, feelings, questions, loss of answers, frustrations and devastation that we often don’t want to address in at a funeral where many of us are dressed so nicely in dark clothing. With “active” grief, I’m suggesting a definition where one purposefully and intentionally leans into these devastating aspects of grief.
For example, my very early drafts characterized more of my own feelings and questions, and told a different story that exemplified those unfulfilled dreams, the life unlived, and the legacy of sorrow left for the family. Originally, part of me wanted to first lean into the deep grief of seeing all of Rick’s unfulfilled dreams and then follow that with some comfort, hope, and celebration for the man of honour and integrity that Rick truly is. The reason I wanted to go this direction early on was likely because of my own process of working through my own grief and memory of the many heart-to-heart conversations I had with Rick at White Spot. I even alluded to this in the actual speech I delivered at the funeral, but left out some of the topics we often discussed.
Some of my own questions, frustrations and sadness concerning Rick’s death have involved all those dreams, wishes, longings and hopes that Rick so wanted from his life. Without getting into too much detail, Rick often dreamt of finding that love-of-his-life. And it’s a dream that I feel much sorrow about because it’s clear that he never fulfilled this wish in the end. Part of the reason why this particular dream has affected me so much is because I remember how deeply important this ideal of a loving relationship has always been to him.
After all, in his past relationships, Rick deeply loved his partners. He was fiercely devoted and loyal to each of the women in his life that ultimately were not to be. Whether it was his dedication to one girlfriend across 10,000km of distance or renting out part of a restaurant (or was it the whole restaurant?) in Hong Kong and hiring violinists to serenade another ex-girlfriend over a luxurious banquet (and it wasn’t even a proposal). Rick definitely was not hesitant to go “all-out”. While I remember frequently cautioning Rick about the very notion of going “all-out” too early, I did also express to him that I nonetheless appreciated the incredible efforts he went through to show his devotion and dedication to his partners.
Perhaps that’s why, in the original draft of my speech, part of me wanted to propose with some stark bluntness perhaps, that it is an incredibly sad and disappointing truth to recognize how Rick would never get the opportunity in this timeline to fulfil his dreams. But for better or worse, I’m not really a blunt harsh reality kind of human being.
Whether out of empathy, some recognition of what our particular culture of mourning is comfortable with, or my desire to speak appropriately in respect of the family’s feelings, I absolutely understand why a more direct, active grief approach may not have been the ideal choice for my sharing/speech. Furthermore, regardless of my personal philosophies or opinions of what may/may not constitute “health grieving”, I also recognize that the experience of grief is both subjective and contextual. And ultimately, it’s really not about me. Most importantly, it’s about Rick’s family and sharing with them a few fond stories and life-giving memories of their son and brother that they might not have had a chance to hear.
Depending how you read this section on active grief, I wonder if I come across as a deeply thoughtful, empathic, human with daring views or as a secretly insensitive antisocial poo-poo head. Maybe both are true lol. Even so, I do want to be clear. Within my core values and personal mindset, I do actually strongly advocate for a message of hope, celebration and flourishing in our speeches, funerals and other rituals of mourning. I also very much love what I shared and poured my heart and soul writing the speech that I shared. Heck, I spent bloody hours until 3:00am the night before writing that speech and woke up editing it a bit more when I woke up at 7:30 am.
In this section on active grief, I’m just sharing my feelings of what I “wish” our culture of mourning would more openly accept. Maybe I’m recalling all those Sunday School stories of our heroes in the Bible “tearing their clothes” in order to honestly express their mourning and physically manifest the sheer depth of their pain, loss and sorrow (more on these examples another time). You can see this In the story of Joseph (“…and the Technicolour Dreamcoat” for those less familiar with the original tale) when his father Jacob believes that Joseph is killed, and also in the story of Job who endures unimaginable suffering with the death of his children and servants, severe loss of health and the devastation of losing all his possessions and livelihood.
So in an ideal world, I just wish there could be a greater degree of transparency and acceptance for the questions, frustrations and sorrow that inevitably sweep over us in difficult times such as this.
Even so, a case could be made that we’re focusing on celebration at the funeral precisely because we’re already fully immersed and “facing” that deep, pervasive, inescapable grief. In the case, we’re already passively immersed in the context of grief. With this “passive grief”, we’re focusing on the life well-lived through the ever-present, sweeping sorrow and within the stark reality of losing a son, brother and friend in this present life. I’m suggesting here that grief is “passive” because it is ever-present, inescapable, and continues to knock loudly on the doors of our spirit. For this argument, during the immediacy of a death, I believe there are two incredible important elements to consider: the context, and “holding space” for others.
Firstly, the context really matters. The context surrounding Rick’s death is already tragic enough, so the experience of grief can’t be subject to erasure, denial or cushions of excessive-positivity even if we “tried”. And frankly, there were a couple specific rituals of cultural Chinese origin on that day that actually did “try” to lean into this sense of “denying” one’s feelings (more on this later). Regardless of what happened, the context here involves honouring the family’s wishes, empathizing with what they believe they needed and/or might be able to cope with in that intense moment, and letting go of my own theories and beliefs about “how someone can grieve in a more health way”.
Furthermore, if you’ve ever prepared for a speech in memory of a loved one’s death, a eulogy for the passed, or attended a funeral, you’ll remember that the words being shared are inextricably entangled in a strange, uncanny union of grief, sorrow, celebration and love. And in the context of this speech’s delivery (a funeral), and within the context and intent of this sharing, the looming presence of grief is terrifyingly “passive’ because of its implicitness and pronounced presence. It’s a presence of grief that perhaps dwells in the shadows of our feelings, almost haunting us in the background. To me, grief, here, even feels like a “screaming silence”, like a ghost with its mouth stuck ever open, screaming endlessly, but heard deafeningly through its very silence.
(I know that all just sounded a bit cryptic and fancypants. And it’s an interesting nerdy illustration that I’ll dive into a bit more another time. But for now, just let that wash over you lol).
That’s why, in my speech, I wanted to emphasize more of that small, yet significant, measure of hope in remembering Rick’s character, honour, integrity and the many memories we shared together with him. At risk of sounding cliche, these are memories that forever live in us. And of course, for those of us who have chosen to adhere to a faith tradition or some perspective of the after-life, we can rest comfortably knowing that Rick’s spirit is carried, at peace with the arms of God / the Divine.
Whether we choose to enter these rituals of mourning with an active intention to focus on the grief or simply let the grief passively move through us through the implicit context of the funeral itself, what I believe is important is inviting ourselves–if we feel ready (more on this later also)–to honestly observe and engage the wide spectrum of our feelings in such difficult times.
Holding Space, Joy and Sorrow Together
That is, if we’re ready (e.g. if it’s not too overwhelming or debilitating of our daily lives to do so), I believe it’s important to see how we might “hold space” for ourselves. By doing so, we can simultaneously “carry” hope and grief. Specifically, this invitation can help us learn how to carry hope through our process of grieving. This doesn’t mean covering up our tears or layering excessive positivity on to our sadness like some haphazardly baked piece of layered cake. Instead, it’s again about holding space for oneself (and for another), where we can invite ourselves to truly “carry” different kinds of feelings at the same time. That means learning to see joy during and through our deep sorrow, or inviting ourselves to tenderly wade our fingers through unexpected streams of hope while leaning into the torrential storm of our emptiness. After all, I believe that joy and sorrow, celebration and grief are better seen as partners or bedfellows instead of opposites and adversaries.
For most of the speech, I decided to reflect on the “why” behind Rick’s passionate love for sports and celebrated Rick’s character and how the spirit of sports embodied him in the best possible way. In the conclusion of that speech, I invited each person to “hold space” for a deeply personal word or phrase. I hoped that doing so might invite each of us to feel what we needed to feel in that moment, and perhaps deepen and enrich the impression of Rick’s character within our hearts and memory. Perhaps it was here where I really hoped to invite each person to “hold space” for themselves and dare to carry both their joy and sorrows with the very same love that they held for Rick.
As I write all of this, I’d like to think that all of these debates and ideas were dialoguing somewhere in the parking lot of my consciousness as I prepared and wrote the speech I ended up sharing. Frankly, I didn’t dive into it so philosophically in the days leading up to the funeral since I had enough on my mind with all the responsibilities I had for the funeral.
For me, during the actual moment of sharing at the funeral, I indeed felt that passive, droning bass-line presence of grief that kept playing in my spirit while I shared about the more joyful memories and appreciations for Rick’s honour and integrity. I carried a bittersweet smile of my own throughout the whole 6-7 minutes or so. (And we still somehow ended early!).
At the funeral, I obviously also felt those feelings of sadness for the loss of one of my oldest friends. At the same time, I also felt joy and gratitude for the story I remembered and shared. I also felt a great deal of appreciation for the beautiful quotes I received from our friends.
If you’re one of the beautiful, special, brilliant, extraordinary, spectacular, wonderful handful of people that have actually read through much of my other discussions on grief on this website (you’re hardcore awesome, so thanks!), I also thank you for reading through these musings and my own personal efforts of processing this loss of Rick through this post.
Peace be with you all.