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Joel Silverstein

Death. Life. Food. Funeral. Dirt. Coffin. Food. Phone calls. Family. Life. Death. My weekend.

Translation: I received a phone call early Thursday morning. It was my father. My grandpa had died. After I hung up, I was forced to go through the motions of another day at PSU. Two classes. Dinner. It made me angry to have to wait another day until I could be with my family. I felt selfish for choosing to be on an exchange this far from home. And American Airlines has no movies.

Friday morning, after having my shoes inspected twice, I boarded a plane for Newark, N.J. There, alone in row 22, I finally had time to think about what I was coming home to. I searched for an answer to the question about life without a loved one, and what my concept of death really was once I’d experienced it. I felt like this was a natural part of the grieving process: reflecting, alone and with the family, so that we might move on to new things with only the positive things the deceased has left behind.

Unfortunately, my family was not afforded the luxury of having this time to reflect. Instead, they were calling relatives, planning the funeral, and ordering enough food to accommodate up to 50 visitors after the funeral. There was little time to really talk, or really express how we were feeling. Just preparation.

This has become the feng shui of funeral preparations in our culture. The mourning family is burdened with preparing and entertaining, but it isn’t until during and after the funeral that we are alone with the reality of having lost a loved one. It makes deli platters seem like a grain of sand on a beach, so small and insignificant, when weighed against the Pandora’s box of emotions we experience when faced with grief.

Something seemed horribly wrong with this to me. I felt like my family deserved more time to let these feelings in, instead of this unnatural business of pushing them aside to concentrate on logistics. Why should it be a custom for a family in mourning to bear these burdens? ‘Because it’s what you do’ is the only answer I have gotten from anyone. To me that’s just unacceptable.

The funeral finally gave us the chance to begin the reflection process, as we remembered the man my grandfather was. I just feel like we shouldn’t have had to wait until then to do so. I had to leave the day after, without allowing myself the time I needed with my family. I had a responsibility to my education, including classes to attend, work to do and a column to write. So, I left my family and flew through the clouds of grief to find my role in society at around 29,000 feet: the college student. But when did that take precedence over being a son?