CELEBRATING A LIFE
Yesterday I attended a funeral at my church. Hilda was 97 years old when she passed, and she had been a member there long before I came on the scene. But she was a part of my church life from the first day I attended, because she and her seatmate always sat directly in front of me. (We don't really have assigned seats, but we might as well have.)
There weren't many there for the service. Most of Hilda's contemporaries are also gone. We did meet her two children, both of whom live in New York State, plus other family members. But the folks who came--my, how they sang and prayed and recited Psalm 23 together! We celebrated the life of a woman we had all known, to one degree or another.
In my 20s and 30s I dreaded going to funerals--they were so, well, funereal.
My first experience of the Celebration of Life service was 45 years ago in a church I attended when my children were young. Yes, we mourn the one who has passed. Yes, we may be saddened by the suddenness of the death. And yes, if we are adults, we naturally are reminded of our mortality.
But we also celebrate the faith and recount stories about the one whom we see no longer--the funny things, the odd things, even the ornery things that have occurred. Yesterday, Hilda's son said his mom was indeed strict. He remembered it well, along with what she did to keep the family going in hard times. A caregiver and close friend of Hilda's remembered her as strong, stubborn, hardheaded--and loving, joyful, a true friend. She told little-known anecdotes about Hilda's escapades when eating out with a group from church.
I love those stories. They illustrate that we are all a jumble of characteristics. We're not paper dolls; we're not formed in a mold. Listening to Hilda's friend and her children, we got a true picture of the Hilda most of us knew. And if you were a stranger in the congregation that day, you would feel as if you knew her, too.
Do you tell family stories to your children or grandchildren? Or to nieces and nephews?
Many adults I talk with don't remember their grandparents. Family stories can fill in those gaps. They give us a sense of connection we wouldn't otherwise have. The stories may even explain why our family lived the way it did--and where it did.
We are such a mobile society that the stories are more important than ever. I was born in Illinois, moved to Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, and finally Indiana. My children were born in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. Whenever our family gets together for a visit, we often play the "Do you remember" game. What one remembers, another may not. And most often--the memories are very, very different. Makes for a spirited visit, let me tell you.
Storytelling is an art--no doubt about that. But that doesn't prevent each one of us from taking part. A story can be as short as telling your young children their grandparents' given names. Or it can be more involved, explaining where your ancestors came from, if you know; or bringing to life the cultural differences in your family.
If your storytelling starts getting complicated, try writing down the anecdotes and experiences you'd like to share. No one is going to grade your work, so feel free to express yourself as you would if you were talking to your audience.
Can't get started? Then try the traditional approach:
"Once upon a time, there was . . . ."
Works every time.