I’ve attended memorials, celebrations of life, or funerals throughout my life. But it didn’t start well. I wasn’t present at my dad’s funeral and burial because I was “too young,” if there is such a thing. But neither was my brother, who was six.
Much later, I hid in the back seat of the car when a neighbor friend died of cancer when I was 15. I didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral, a fact I regret. But I did attend my father-in-law’s funeral when I was 20, but I have no memory of any of it.
It wasn’t until much later–in the past decade–that I have attended funerals/memorials/celebrations in any meaningful way. A couple of them were tragic. An 18-year-old who committed suicide. A young mother killed when an out-of-control sports car hit their motor home. And then a few for older people who died after a long life.
But I had never organized a memorial before. It felt awkward. No family members helped me decide what to do, except for son’s girlfriend who created the program. And then when it was over my son told me about the aspects he didn’t like. It felt like criticism, but I know he had a right to his feelings and perceptions about it.
I invited mom’s former managers to conduct the service for mom. They knew her well, loved her and watched over her when they were managers, and knew many of the residents who would attend. He was also an ordained pastor. His wife sang a hymn. My son thought he tried too hard and didn’t like the hymn.
I invited mom’s Episcopal priest to say a few words and she, in turn, invited a couple of other people who knew mom to offer reflections. One woman offered an emotional vision of heaven. It was, in son’s eyes, over-the-top emotional. I, too, was uncomfortable, but decided that maybe someone else needed to hear that vision that day.
The second Episcopal person knew mom for 18 years and offered sweet words about her. But then he said something about his combat experience and I was a little confused. But a friend of mine, also a former Marine, connected with him after the service.
The pastor then shared a homily about Psalm 46. “‘Be still,’ I think she would say to you now,” he offered.
When my brother spoke he said, “Yes, mom, would tell me to ‘be still,’ and then she’d tell me to shave my beard.” That got a laugh. I never remember her saying, ‘be still,’ but she said often, “It will all work out.” Sort of the same thing.
My son liked what my brother shared.
Then it was sharing time for those present. One woman said they used to play cards together. I asked her to tell the rest of the story, which was that mom played by her own rules. The card group finally called her on it and she stopped playing with them.
Another shared a memory from her 100th birthday party when mom was asked, “Who was your favorite president?” and she replied, “I never discuss politics.”
A caregiver who had been with her four years then shared. I cried with her as she talked about mom and her love for her. She said mom taught her much about life and that she became a better person for knowing her. “She helped me as much as I helped her.” She then read a poem, crying as she read.
We honored mom, laughed, cried, and shared the experience with people who had known and loved her.
My son said he wished that it had just been a family event. But it was, I think I said. This event was for the people here who were her “family”–people who saw her every day, who took care of her, who made sure she was getting to meals, to her hair appointments, who took care of the nitty-gritty details of everyday life. They were the people who helped her get to bed at night and cleaned her apartment each week.
The caregivers in our loved ones lives are to be honored and respected for their loss, just as much as those who are blood family. Our loss is deep–but they miss her, too.