I've been talking with a friend whose parents, both in their early 80's, are declining in health, though so far still managing to live independently at their longtime home. She related a recent conversation with her mother, in which her mother said something like, "After I'm gone, I don't want any kind of funeral or memorial service..." -- something similar to what I have heard other people say as they have reached their 70's or 80's, as well. My friend, never one to bite her tongue, was not having any of this, however. "Well, it's not up to you, is it? We're going to be the ones who are left behind, and making that choice." When her mother protested that she hadn't really done anything worth talking about at a memorial service, that she hadn't had a career, or been much of a success at anything, my friend nearly shouted, "What -- do you think we're just going to forget you?! We'll miss you every day! You're our mama!!!" She said her mother was startled by her vehemence, but also a bit pleased.
This reminded me of something my own mother put in the instructions she left for us after her death. We, her family, unanimously agreed to ignore this, for the same reasons. And remembering back to her memorial service, I feel a bit sad that so many of us -- mothers, fathers, the lady next door, the 'unimportant'... 'uninteresting' ... 'ordinary' people, any of us human beings, would ever feel this way about our lives.
Sometimes I wish that people could attend their own funerals and memorial services. Not to see people crying and sad, or to listen to the often-empty prayers trotted out for even the least churched members of a family. But to hear the little things they did or said that touched the lives of friends and acquaintances, bowling team members, hairdressers..... I was surprised and touched to hear such stories at my mother's memorial service, and I'm sure she would have been astonished. A shy garden club member who was encouraged by my mother to speak up at meetings. A former neighbor who told of my mother standing up for herself with snooty fellow parents at school functions. A cousin who remembered her being a wonderful auntie.
Realistically, I don't see people arranging memorial services for themselves in advance of their deaths, just to find out what people really think of them. But what if we all did a bit more appreciation, all the time, of the 'ordinary' people in our everyday lives?
There are so many people who mean the world to me, I have to ask myself if I tell them so often enough? I tell my sweetheart every day how much I love him. What about my friends? my colleagues? Perhaps doing this can be seen as a kind of spiritual practice, a mindfulness of the blessings of friends and family, gratitude and appreciation for gifts received every day. I admit that I am surprised when someone gives me such a gift of gratitude. We all need to pass it on. Appreciation is appreciated, and needed.