I went to a funeral for a friend’s father yesterday. Now that more of my contemporaries’ parents are hitting their 80s, I seem to be attending more services for a mother or father who I never met.
This one really struck me and I’m trying to figure out why. It didn’t have the biggest attendance, held in a tiny old fashioned white frame Methodist church in the country. Nor did this father produce an unusually big family, just three daughters, eight grandchildren and a few great grandchildren.
Yet I’ve never heard so many people speak at a memorial service.
The pastor reminded people that the family’s wish was to remember and to celebrate, not to get over the loss. In the years since losing Mom and the months since losing Dad, I am still startled by the many times I hear people talk about “closure” or moving on.
The oldest sister chose as her theme how her father lived up to the Boy Scout law: trustworthy, helpful, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. She expounded on each. That, and her Dad liked desserts, especially ice cream, a lot. As she shared anecdotes, she giggled the way my friend does: head tilted back a bit, eyes sparkling, mouth slightly open and the brightest set of white teeth you’ve ever seen on full display. Joy bubbled up and out to all of us. The second sister talked about her father’s kindness and wisdom. When she was torn by a work situation and isolated from her family, she asked for his advice. He told her simply that things would work out, as they usually did, for the best. He offered his support, unconditionally, and trusted her to figure it out. And he loved ice cream.
My friend, the youngest daughter, shared little stories. Her father, brilliant as he was, never failed to see the humor in situations, even at awkward moments, like church. Her sense of humor and her father’s hummed between them like an electrical current, the kind of connection that doesn’t take much to set one of them off in a fit of giggles. Though she shared information about her Dad, what came through most was feeling. You could feel the way she felt about her Dad, and see the joy that he left with her. And he loved ice cream.
Many of the grandchildren shared. Their grandfather, they said, had a way of connecting personally with each of them. For the granddaughter with athletic talent, he was the athlete, having been a three-sport letterman back in the day when you could be good at more than one sport. The grandson with musical talent knew him as the pianist who gave him a coronet that had been handed down from the prior generation. If a grandchild liked to match wits, their grandfather was always ready to take an opposing point of view, teaching them the love of debate for the sheer enjoyment of divining a more comprehensive understanding. They played cribbage. He was handy around the house. He loved nature and the outdoors. He was a devoted and loyal husband. He adored his grandchildren. And he loved ice cream and dessert.
As the pastor promised, the family and friends — former university colleagues, neighbors, childhood classmates — stitched a more complete portrait of the man they all loved. It was a remarkably consistent portrait.
For me, listening, it was a little like watching a movie. Though chronologically disconnected, as the story unfolded, it captured me.
It also reminded me how each member of my family has similar stories of my father inside them. Although my father was greatly diminished by the time he passed away at 96, memories are tucked away, waiting to be dislodged by something one sees or does.
Maybe something as simple, in my father’s case, as eating a bowl of ice cream or chocolate cake. My Dad loved dessert, too.
Remembering isn’t like picking a scab. I get a fuzzily happy feeling when little memories of Mom and Dad flash through my mind. They do not sting; rather they leave me tingling with the knowledge that the people I loved have not truly left me. They are part of my life as long as I remember them.