Margaret Schlagle is pondering the death and burial of Mrs. Wilcox, who has died of cancer. Margaret believes that a funeral is not death, any more than a baptism is a birth. These are merely human inventions to register an event legally, without heart or soul. A funeral is a mere notation that a death has occurred, but is not the death itself, nor the grief, nor the loss, nor the emptiness.
To Margaret, Mrs. Wilcox went out of life on her own terms, though it was not of her own choice. She refused to be less than she was, even though Margaret may not have totally understood that at this point. Mrs. Wilcox kept her pain hidden as long as she could. In fact, Margaret knew about it before her family. Her illness was something that Mrs. Wilcox tried to spare her family as long as possible, knowing how much of an "inconvenience" they would think it was. So she managed to do without the false pity that she knew her family would display, knowing that they would think only of themselves in her death, rather than her own thoughts and feelings. Those were the terms under which she died. The funeral was not for her. It was for her family to publicly display a grief which they may mor may not have felt that intensely.