Today I attended a memorial service for my next-door neighbor. It was very sad as he was only 41 and leaves a wife and two children under the age of five. Those are the kids I’ve been watching for the past year as the parents rushed to many day-long appointments and emergency surgeries, and they really don’t understand what is happening.
I was struck by today’s service because it was so completely different from anything I’ve ever seen. I have always attended a wake at a funeral parlor where I signed a guest book, took a small card, said a prayer in front of a coffin, murmured to the grieving family, then took a chair and sat silently for 20-30 minutes where other people sat uncomfortably and murmured to each other. This service was held outdoors in a lovely alcoved area surrounded by trees and a gentle fountain, with a non-denominational pastor asking us all to empty our minds of hustle and bustle, and focus solely on the moment, as the deceased was surely in this lovely space in spirit.
There was a eulogy by his widow, and a more compassionate and complete picture could not have been painted; there was laughter and tears, and she directed most of her comments to her small children who will see a video of this ceremony when they are older. It was touching and we were all moved to squeeze the hand of the person we were with.
And then there was a progression of people who had been invited to share their recollection: his mother, father, and sister; his wife’s extensive and exuberant family who each recalled the light he put in their sister’s/daughter’s eyes; friends from University; colleagues from his company; the friend who introduced them. It struck me how each person was recalling certain chapters of his life and their association with him, and that we were all reading the book that was this young man. Each chapter had a different perspective based on their knowledge, and all the different chapters together bound a story of a remarkably kind, talented, and determined person who left pages of his goodness and honesty in every person and brought them together to complete the story.
We each lit a candle and placed it in a large tray of sand, as a woman softly sang “In My Life” and “Blackbird” from the Beatles. Then the pastor reminded us that those who die are simply in the next room; that we should not speak of them in hushed and miserable tones, but in natural and loving voices which ensures their spirit is always among us as long as our hearts remember.
It was perfect.