When someone dies, he or she is often spoken about in hushed tones, almost as if we are afraid to acknowledge the fact of their passing. Sometimes, due to religious dictates, the dead are interred within twenty-four hours. This is positive in a sense, because it limits emotional suffering, but it is also a negative inasmuch as it curtails the time for actual mourning. Other decedents are embalmed and their remains are exhibited at elaborate wakes that often span many days. The Irish are famous for such wakes, as evidenced by the movie, Waking Ned Devine. Then, there is a third alternative: a memorial service held a week or more after the actual interment (my personal preference).
I recently had occasion to attend such a service for the wife of a friend. Admittedly, I was not particularly close to either, but I still wanted to show my respects. The memorial was held in a church, and was quite elaborate. It included much singing and liturgical recitation. It was a beautiful service. At one point, several family members and friends got up and spoke about their remembrances of the departed, and I learned a great deal about who the person we were memorializing really was. One thing that bothered me, however, was my inability to generate a mental picture of the man’s wife, although I knew I had liked her quite a bit. Forming a mental picture of her was all but impossible, and that was troubling.
In reading the program, however, I was pleased to learn that there was a reception scheduled after the service. It was my hope that perhaps there would be a picture or two on display that might satisfy my need for a visual image of my friend’s wife. To my surprise, I found there were not just a few pictures in evidence, but probably closer to two dozen on exhibit. As soon as I viewed the pictures, my memories were restored. I could not only see the woman, but I could hear her voice in my head, and feel her very essence. What a wonderful gift!
I have given strict instructions for how I wish to be cared for when I die. I don’t want a wake (no tears for me, please) and I don’t want a church service, either, since I’ve never been one for organized religion. My wishes are to be cremated and to have my ashes scattered on the waters of my beloved Beaverkill River in Upstate New York. Afterward, however, there should be a party—a big one—with lots of food and drink, and an opportunity for those who knew me to tell stories about me, whether they are favorable or not.
If you are contemplating your own mortality, or even making plans for that “final day,” I would suggest one thing. Make sure that there are lots of pictures on display at whatever kind of service you designate to be held. People need to see images of you when you were alive and happy—and still a vital force in their lives. With all the media at our disposal, it’s even possible to arrange a video presentation, which will allow others the chance to see us one last time as a living, breathing person. Anyway, that’s the way I want it. How about you?