I went somewhere I’d rather not have gone today, to a funeral for the father of one of my students. As a result of that unwelcome trip, I learned a new word, “innichement”. Unable to find the definition through all the major online dictionaries, I eventually discovered innichement is a trade word which funeral homes define as the placement of cremations into a niche within a columbarium, (which is a structure of vaults lined with recesses for cinerary urns).
Those marble niches designed to provide a resting place for the carbon remains of our earthly existence led me to not only reflect on the niches we each occupy in our lives, but the niches we each have in our hearts, where loved ones reside eternally, despite physical death.
Being the introverted little girl who often used dictionary reading to appease boredom, I reached out to my childhood friend Merriam-Webster, who informed me that the Consice Encyclopedia defines “niche” as the smallest unit of a habitat that is occupied by an organism. A habitat niche is the physical space occupied by the organism; an ecological niche is the role the organism plays in the community of organisms found in the habitat.
Today as I looked around at the folks who turned out to express their love for the deceased and his family, I was reminded of our connectedness as a community and how you and I and everyone who calls this planet home have a niche, a role, and place in this habitat we occupy. After our physical body ceases to function, someone else may be able to settle into that actual space at the dinner table, that role in the family, or position at the office that was once occupied by us, but I believe no one can ever fill it completly. As unique as each of us is, with the exception of identical twins, there’s no one like us, no one able to perfectly fill our niche.
Luckily our hearts haves niches too, warm enveloping places where the memories of the love that we have felt for others through the years is able to settle in comfortably, eventually becoming a vital part of the organ system that at first simply allows us to continue to put one foot in front of the other as grief slaps us in the face and creeps into our dreams, but somewhere down the path, will begin to facilitate a smile that grows, a laugh that erupts, a feeling of blessedness that flows.
Tonight, my student’s father lives on in the heart niches of a multitude of friends and family who were blessed to have known him. Cemetaries, columbariums, and urns may be final internment/innichement places for the carbon we leave behind, but our hearts are the hosts which provide the niches that lovingly hold those dear to us for eternity.
Peace and Love