December feels like endings. It’s the end of the year, the end of my garden and the end of the light in the late afternoons until the winter solstice starts shifting us back.
Funerals, memorials, remembrances, circles and other forms of honoring our loved ones as they end their lives have been on my agenda lately. Aside from the sadness and grieving, I’ve also started looking at how people celebrate the deceased. Most of the events are very reflective of the life they represent.
What is a life? How do we celebrate it, remember it, honor it?
There was a small circle for a woman I’ve known for a while. People spontaneously shared their memories of this woman, and it became very emotional, perhaps because the circle was small and intimate. Poems were read and tears were shed.
A service at the funeral home here in town was a totally different kind of experience. Programs were given out, hymns were sung, speakers spoke at a podium and a video played of the deceased man’s life. Formal and very beautiful.
My brother’s recent memorial was full of family. We sat in a semicircle overlooking the lake where he lived, and we all shared our memories, laughed, cried and then sprinkled his ashes in the lake. I felt closure in that I had said what I needed and felt supported by family.
Another celebration of life I attended a short time ago was for a very sophisticated, elegant woman, so she had a sophisticated, nice and elegant memorial planned for herself. It was a huge affair, with a lavish dinner, open bar, music and a podium where people spoke from their hearts about this wonderful woman. It seems no matter what shape the different events take, the passing of a dear one evokes us to speak from our depths.
A New York Times article last June described a woman who had her own funeral before she died, complete with coffin-decorating. She is trying to start a “positive death movement” and break taboos regarding dying.
I don’t mean to make light of this topic, especially for someone going through this very process now of remembering and celebrating a deceased loved one. How we honor our people who have died, including ourselves, may be something we want to think about. It may help us live with less fear of death and more appreciation of our lives now.
Many of us won’t care how people send us on our way. What they, the living, choose is what they need to do. Some may not want any kind of memorial. But as I explore this ending of life – and all the different parts of it – I see that I definitely have preferences. Once again, control issues?
Maybe these ideas about obituaries and memorials are things to be discussed with family at this time of the year when many of us see our families for the holidays. I find that each time I have these conversations with my kids, they accept the fact that I’m going to die a little bit more. This reality may make it easier for them. Or not? Only you know your family.
Cheers to all as we move back into the light and new beginnings.
Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus to the other end of life, and has written a book, “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.