Writing from the Heart: The case for living memorials

What if the minister calls you cantankerous?


I went to a memorial a few days ago. One speaker after another got up and told these amazing stories. I knew him slightly. It was really his wife I was there for. But hearing these stories gave me such a clear picture of what a special, special guy he was. After the event, I couldn’t stop thinking how sad it was that George wasn’t there. Would he have been surprised to hear how cherished he had been? I thought, Where are you, George? Where are the dead people right after they leave us? In Bardo? In Limbo? In Soho? It sounds like I’m making light of death, but I’m not. I’m deadly serious. I ask this same question of my deceased loved ones all the time.

My next thought was, mMaybe we should have our memorials before we die. I mentioned my idea to my husband, who said, Well then, no one would ever say anything but accolades if the guy were sitting right there. When have you ever heard anyone say anything bad about a person at a funeral?

Actually there was my neighbor, Helen. She had been a thorn in everyone’s side for four full square blocks. When we had a tag sale, she called the labor department and reported that we were running a business out of our house. She brought me leaf bags and told me I could get them at the A&P on Farmington Avenue, that they were for the leaves we weren’t raking. She woke me up at two in the morning to tell me our basement light was on, and we were in the middle of an energy crisis — didn’t I care? Ultimately we made friends, and I ended up loving her for the character she was, but at her funeral the minister actually said, “Now we all know Helen was cantankerous.”

I recently took a course called “Journey of the Soul,” and I learned that in Judaism we believe that the soul goes on. So if there’s a soul, then is it at the service hovering? Floating? Listening? Grieving? Celebrating? My son Dan died 11 years ago, and often I hear myself saying, “Where are you, Danny boy? Are you somewhere?”

Was he around for his memorial? Dan had a very short run, but he must have somehow intuitively known the grains of sand were rushing through a larger hole in his hourglass, because he packed a lifetime of experiences into those young years. There must have been nine of his former girlfriends there getting up one by one speaking about their love for him. Was he listening? Was he laughing? Was he gratified? Mortified? Feeling guilty? Was his ego doing the two-step? Or is “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” really it?

Does anyone actually have answers for any of this? I certainly don’t, but my hope is that the ones who have passed on get to know how loved they were. And if that is not the case, then maybe I’ll start a movement that we do the ceremony while we’re still alive and kicking.

’Course there’s always the possibility that you could get that candid minister, and I’m not sure I want to hear that I was cantankerous.