Many years ago, my siblings and I requested a family meeting with my father. The purpose of that meeting is now lost in the mists of time, but the outcome of our time with my dad that day will be remembered by all of us forever.
Somehow, the topic of conversation veered from the matter at hand to a frank discussion of what he would like us to do in his honour upon his death. He outlined where he’d like us to gather to remember him, the food he would prefer, and even his long-time favourite songs. He gave us some idea of who should be invited, and suggested that the tone of his memorial ceremony not be somber or religious. More a celebration of life.
When the time came, we were able to proceed with assurance. We followed his suggestions, right down to the fresh dill on the salmon! When my son [at the age of ten] talked about his grandpa as his babysitter never being able to understand that the same button turned the television on or off, we laughed uproariously. (My dad never was any good at “technical” stuff.) When my niece and her friends sang “The Red River Valley” in three-part harmony, we could feel my dad’s spirit hovering over us, and we shed a tear for him. When we later enjoyed the life-affirming refreshments that we had prepared, we were grateful to him for having always provided for us.
We laughed. We cried. Sometimes we did both at the same time. It was truly marvelous.
My father was not a man given to frequent personal conversations (or for that matter, party planning), so I have always admired his forthrightness in looking his own demise right in the eye and planning for it. Over the years, we have come to appreciate the enormous gift he gave us.
For indeed it was a gift. We were able to say goodbye to him with a meaningful memorial ceremony, which enabled us to move on in our grieving with hope and perspective. We were able to convey our respect, and the meaning his life held for us. And perhaps most importantly, we connected to each other once again as his family and friends.
Thinking about our own death and our own memorial service is never an easy thing to do, particularly in our culture. But it is one of the most loving offerings we can make to our families when, like my dad, you let them know how you want to be remembered.
Funeral Celebrant Janis Horne, for Modern Celebrant