I’m home after attending a memorial service celebrating the life of a longtime member of our church, a remarkable woman who lived Thoreau’s admonition to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
The church was full and the service ran over 90 minutes. Family and friends recounted their memories spanning her 85 years, stories that painted a vivid picture of a life and the essence of a woman any of us would want to know. We cried, but largely we laughed and smiled as we acknowledged her death, yet focused on the way she blessed the world.
Leaving the warm church and hurrying through the cold afternoon to my car, I mused over two life lessons I drew from the memorial, reminders of truths that I so easily forget in the day-to-day living of life.
First, the stories, the memories we shared that brought laughs and tears were about times spent together, the connections between us — not about money amassed during a lifetime nor prestige or prominence attained. We heard of her acts of kindness and generosity, her willingness to explore and try the new, the dimensions of life that reflect our common humanity and bind us together.
Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Nowhere is that clearer than a memorial service. Yet how many of us lives our lives mindful of that?
The second lesson I brought home to consider:
Within the past couple of months, I’ve attended two memorial services for an elder, meaning someone 70 or older whom I’ve only known during this period of life. Sadly, it has been their memorial services where I’ve learned what rich and wondrous lives they lived.
How much better would it be to hear the stories from their own lips and see the joy and sadness in their eyes and faces — and for them to hear and see my appreciation and respect and amazement at their life journeys.
In a culture that prizes the new and the young, our elders are discounted and slowly fade from view, often spending their last years in seclusion in a nursing facility or, if they are fortunate, at home. They only reemerge with death, when we all gather in a church.
Life seems forever, until it ends. We never know when that fateful day will come. May I use these days I am given to hear the stories of my fellow travelers, to cherish and deepen the connections, and to make the memories that will bring smiles and laughter some distant day.