staff photographer

Gillian Jones has been a staff photographer and columnist for the Berkshire Eagle since 2014. She began her journalism career at The North Adams Transcript in 1992.

A funeral mass

A scene from the funeral of Eagle columnist Gillian Jones' mother in June 2021.

NORTH ADAMS — As I’ve gotten older, I find myself looking at the obituaries in The Eagle to see if I know anyone who has died. Lately I seem to recognize a name, at least every other week or so.

Another way I learn of deaths of friends and family members is through social media. For those who are not well-versed in that realm, holiday cards received sometimes not only bring holiday cheer and glad tidings but the news of a death of a loved one.

When I could, I would always find a way to pay my respects to close friends and acquaintances who had passed by attending wakes and funerals.

Since my mom died in May 2021, I found myself unable to continue that practice — until very recently.

This past summer, I had planned to attend the wake of a family from Williamstown whom I’ve known forever. When I saw their son’s obituary in the newspaper, my heart sank. I planned to attend their son’s services to pay my respect. When the time came, worried that I would be triggered in my grief, I decided not to go.

Later, when I saw the young man’s sister and photographed them at a local swimming hole, I expressed my grief and sadness to her in the way I had hoped to if I had attended his services. It felt good to have that moment.

I was unable to attend services for an old boyfriend who lost his mother in late 2022. I cared deeply about her and enjoyed the time spent with her during the time I was with her son and their extended family. I even communicated with her son to see how she was doing over the years since our break-up. I had the opportunity to see her, but I never went.

When the wake and funeral times were announced, I was busy with work and couldn’t attend. I suppose I could have attended if I had made the effort, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

A friend who, like I, had been a caregiver to her parents for the last decade at least, informed me of the death of her father. She shared the information on the services, which were about two and a half hours away. She offered the option to pass on attendance, which I ultimately did.

Grief triggers are everywhere, and I’ve had to navigate around them.

While a few friends attended my mother’s funeral services, with a dozen or so people coming to her wake and no family in attendance, their presence offered me great comfort.

Since enjoying the holidays with family, my birthday in December and an engagement to Dan, I’ve felt a little bit lighter.

When I learned of the passing of a dear old friend’s dad, I found myself available to attend the wake and later the funeral. Coincidentally, I had planned a few days off in early January.

The services allowed me to take a break from a couple of home projects in which I was knee-deep.

From attending the wake in the same funeral home as my mother’s to the Catholic church funeral, I handled it well. Tears rolled down my eyes as the casket was wheeled into the church bearing the burial pall, identical to the one at my mom’s funeral, but it was a manageable emotion. I was also comforted by the parish priest who conducted the funeral. In addition to his heartfelt eulogy, I was especially impressed and proud because he was a former photography student of mine at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

To be able to share in the grief of a longtime friend and colleague was a privilege that I cherish. And as I approach the two-year anniversary of my mother’s passing in May, I feel I can get back into the practice of attending wakes, funerals, memorial services and other events related to the deaths of friends, families and acquaintances.

The stages of grief are a highly individual experience, and I feel relieved that more and more I am able to do things that I used to do before my mom’s death.

Being able to share in the grief of others and provide in-person support is a gift I am grateful to be able to give once again.

Gillian Jones, an Eagle visual journalist, writes a monthly op-ed series. Her email is