I'm thinking tonight about love, loss and obituaries. An odd mix, I know. After work, I stopped in to Sara's wake. There was a large crowd of women laughing and sharing stories, oblivious to the evening sleet and snow coming down outside. I stood on the fringe scanning for an obvious family member to give my condolences to or her best friend Pam. I found her and the requisite family member keeping watch at the back right of the building near the casket. After extending my sympathies to Sara's kin and clasping Pam's hand, I knew that etiquette dictated I say my good-byes to Sara.
Even though I've had a lot of people I care for die in my life, I've attended less than a handful of viewings mostly due to distance, timing, work schedule or cremation. I was impressed by the people at the wake milling about from clique to clique and chatting each other up, all with Sara literally just over their shoulder. It was probably a testament to her personality how large a circle of friends she had; from her career as an educator, to her church, to college friends, town friends and decades with the Girl Scouts. So many people there to honor her and remember.
Which brings me to obituaries. When I read hers, it was dignified, short and sweet. I've only been involved in writing one, and at the time I was kinda really sorta messed up, so my siblings and I enlisted my husband to make sure that the words all made sense. On an interesting note, when we submitted it to what I will call my mother's hometown newspaper, they re-wrote part of it. That pissed me off immensely at the time. After I read Sara's, I couldn't help but think about how much was left out and how much would be left out of all of ours, out of mine.
I'm not trying to be morbid, really I'm not, and maybe that's why you have a wake or a funeral or a celebration or some sort of event to allow people the chance to say out loud what you meant to them. And I suppose that your chance to specifically mention the people who are beloved to you needs to come with each day, because we never know when the day you're going to get hit by a bus will come. I absolutely adore taking anybody I love aside and telling them to their face how important they are to me, because I need you to know how special you are. Not Hallmark trite crap, but the real stuff that matters, that I enjoy observing. My grown-up nieces have all gotten used to that last tearful good-bye from their silly Aunt Heather when we visit; my whispered thoughts on how awesome they are, how much I love them. I don't want them to read a line in my obituary that says "she is survived by" many beloved nieces. They need to know exactly how I feel. My only nephew and the great-nieces and great-nephews haven't gotten as much of this due to distance, a gigantic failing on my part.
And then where is the place in the obituary to mention your treasured friends, your mentors, life-changing teachers, your great loves, to thank them for how they made you the human you are? Perhaps we should think of our obituaries more like an acceptance speech where there's no music to play you off or an extended acknowledgements page or album liner notes, and then I suppose you'd need to write it yourself in advance. Why leave it to someone else, allowing them to create a mythos of the real you? They'll sanitize you, my friends, and you're much too complex for that.
For those of you still around when my time comes, be prepared for a party. I want you to laugh and sing, to tell dirty jokes and read poetry out loud, to eat and drink and tell as many stories as you can. Talk about the question game we used to play in the car, as there will be no need for secrets at that point. Talk about what it was like to kiss me. Did we act together? Sing together? Talk about what it looked like when I lost my temper, when my sense of humor strayed towards a 14 year-old males, my ability to conjugate my favorite curse words. You're welcome to say sweet and lovely things, but don't belabor it too much because I've never been good at taking a compliment. I will haunt you.
I will continue to tell you all how much I love you, whether you ever tell me back or not. I don't say it for any of you to feel beholden to me to reciprocate, but for you to know my heart. (Although, I welcome any feelings you want to share ...I'm dorky that way.) I will tell you how strong you are and how proud I am of you, how hard you're working on improving your health, what an amazing parent you are, how I admire your dedication to your elderly parents, your patients, your writing, your crafting, your faith, your true self. I want to celebrate your love stories and dance to your music. I want to look you in the eyes and tell you how fantastic you are and how lucky I am to know and love you.