I’ve been to five celebrations of life this year, beginning with my father’s last January 25th. That, for me, was the toughest one of course, but I hope I gave him the kind of send off he would have enjoyed.
The last one I attended was yesterday. The wife of my husband’s friend disappeared last January when she went for a hike. I remember driving out to the park with my husband just after she had disappeared, watching the helicopter above scanning the wooded areas, and the rescue vessel combing the waters below. It was a strange and helpless feeling. There were dozens of hikers and rescue workers on foot, scouring the park hoping to find her. They never did. Her husband took a long time to decide to hold a memorial for her, the finality of it likely his reason for resisting up to now. When there is no body, it is undoubtedly difficult to completely let go.
When you read the obituaries these days, most tend to invite people to a celebration of life or a “gathering” rather than a more formal church funeral which was more common when I was growing up. The very first one I attended was my mother’s memorial when I was 14. I didn’t really pay much attention to what was said or done, the whole experience was mostly a blur at the time. But my mother was not religious, so the event reflected that which was unusual at the time. It was done through a memorial society which she and my father had joined before she passed away. She was cremated, which was also less popular than burials back in 1972.
But forty-three years later, the way we say good-bye to our loved ones, for the most part, has become a more positive expression. And I like that.
When you think about it, how someone died is such a tiny event compared to how they lived, even in the case of the woman who disappeared on that hike. Our minds wandered to all kinds of possibilities as to how it happened, but even in her case, the life she lived before that was far more important. People stood up and told stories, we laughed, we cried, but mostly we remembered with a smile. I know that when it’s my turn to go, I will want people to do the same.
Two of the people who passed away were elderly; my father and one other man. Three were taken too soon, two by cancer and the woman who disappeared on the hike…all in their 50’s or 60’s. But each of them had a celebration, a gathering where the real focus was their life, their achievements, their loves. Their stories.
At my Dad’s celebration, I played an old song that he always loved called “Hallelujah I’m a Bum”. I don’t know if you would have gotten away with singing such a song forty years ago, even at a non-religious service. But it was a song he and his sister would sing when they went trick-or-treating as kids on Halloween, and he never got tired of hearing or singing it. It’s a funny song, but it’s also about poverty during the Great Depression which my father experienced along with so many others so it was a reflection of his life, his era, if you will, and the sense of humour that never left him. I think he would have enjoyed watching everyone sing along on the chorus that day 🙂
Even though each gathering I have attended in the last year has been mostly a positive experience, I would prefer not to have to attend any more for awhile. Not that I have any choice. But what I have resolved to myself is to make sure that from now on I live the kind of life that people will smile and tell good stories about when it’s my turn to go.
To live a life worth celebrating.