When you’re trying to heal, you don’t always think about how the healing happens, or the forms it takes. You just want it done so the pain stops and you can return to whatever normal used to feel like.
Throughout the chapel at Valley Funeral Home last Saturday afternoon, healing permeated prayers and conversations. It circled the dozen or so families who probably never met but were drawn together this day in a ceremony of remembrance, of honoring lost ones during the holidays, and of new steps toward healing the gaps left by their loved ones’ passing.
You’d see it in the puffy tear-streaked eyes that never quite dried during the hour-long service. It was ever present in the healing hugs volunteers received as they finished leading the group in prayers. It was in long moments of reflection that some spent alone in a corner of the chapel.
I usually find healing in laughter. I was glad to learn the Malone girls did, too.
In October 2010, family patriarch Virgilio Malone died, leaving six children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. I sat next to his wife of 60 years, Maggie, who brought daughters Lisa and Molly to the service.
They didn’t attend last year because they said it was hard enough getting through the holidays without dad’s traditional church solo of “O Holy Night” and the joy he brought to the big Italian family gathering.
“We have a loud family,” Molly said as we waited for the service to start. “We tell people, ‘Either bring the earplugs, or practice yelling to keep up.’”
We listened to a harpist play “O Holy Night” and they were reminded of Virgilio. As is trademark for the Malones, the reflection was tempered with jokes.
“I wonder what strings she pulled to get this job,” Lisa said.
We listened to prayers from Father Jordan Mathews, who said we must forgive the dead if true healing is ever going to take place.
He was followed by Dr. Elena Esparza, an elegant and eloquent speaker who shared a story of her childhood in which a grave injury was figuratively and literally healed by her father. Though he died some time ago, she said remembering him — and any loved ones — is a choice.
The way in which we remember, she said, is an act that requires practice and constant strengthening.
“We don’t need pockets or a car to take our loved ones with us,” she said.
The final act of healing came in the closing words of funeral director Blake Moses, the man responsible for gathering the Burbank families for the annual holiday service.
Though he has worked in funeral service for 30 years, rarely has he had to face the loss of his own loved ones. On Saturday, he thanked the families gathered in his chapel, stopping to remind everyone that they will be remembered.
And though he didn’t expressly say it, there was some connection there as he shared with these families his own story of loss: over the past 14 months, he has lost his wife, brother, aunt and mother.
After the ceremony’s conclusion, he helped families add photos and ornaments to a Christmas tree set up in the front of the chapel. The ornaments contain notes to the deceased.
Moses thanked families for coming, and more than once he was met in an embrace. Elsewhere in the room, Maggie Malone pulled a photo from her purse of her and Virgilio, ready to be placed on the tree.
She smiled quietly to herself.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.