The Memorial Service: A Change of Heart
In my later years, with my growing disrespect for religion, I have become contemptuous of funerals, memorial services, or, God help us, “a celebration of life.” It has seemed to me like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. I wanted no such thing when my turn comes.
This weekend, I had the privilege of being the MC at a service for my dear friend, Jim Keeffe. As I worked with Jim’s widow, Holley Wysong, to put the ceremony together, I got a new perspective. Developing the memorial with various people, I began to see how important going through all this pain was for the healing process.
We wanted the service to reflect who Jim was, and to honor the values of his family and colleagues. Some things that made it unique:
- No church, just a community meeting center.
- No pews – chairs in a semicircle so we could actually talk to each other.
- No clergy talking nonsense about God and the afterlife.
- Graphics – Jim’s son, Vincent, a talented graphic designer created a slide show, a wonderful photo montage of his life, and a memento table.
- Holley welcomed everyone and introduced a neighbor who sang several acapella spirituals.
- Since Jim was an organic chemist and spent his professional life teaching chemistry at SF State, and since many there had been his colleagues at State, I tossed in some humor,
The American Chemical Society called me this morning to let me know about a new element added to the Periodic Table of Elements upon Jim’s death: JimKeeffeium. It has a low atomic number since it bonds so easily with other elements (Jim was loved by students and faculty alike.)
The last time I saw Jim, he as reading a book about Helium. Said he couldn’t put it down.
I worried that the humor might seem out of place. Not at all. Big hit. One way people deal with their sorrow is through laughter.
Several people had prepared reflections about Jim.
- Others shared memories spontaneously.
- Jim was a musical animal.
- He was in singing groups in college.
- Several of them were in attendance, so, of course, they sang, and we sang.
As we wrapped up, I reminded people of two things,
1) Be extra careful driving home. A memorial is emotionally stressful.
2) Reach out to Holley and the Keeffe family regularly. It is easy to forget the people holding the most grief as we move on with our lives.
The memorial ended with a huge spread of wine and cheese and finger food. Visiting went on for another hour.
Big Take Away: People need to grieve. Sorrow is expressed through tears, through laughter, through music, and especially with a strong, long hug.
Bottom line: this memorial was hugely important for us to express our support for Jim’s family. It was also an important way for us to support each other and share our loss.
So, when my turn comes, if you get an invitation to a memorial, please come. Come prepared to sing, to cry, to laugh, and to make noise. It is very important to do all those things.
Let ‘er Rip!
Sharing Our Stories
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