Saturday, April 18, 2009

Celebrating a Life VS Mourning a Death

On March 21st, our family held a memorial service to honor my father, who passed away last November. My mother spent much of the four months between the time of his death till then, planning with great care how best to honor his memory through the memorial service. Anyone who attended it can attest to how lovingly and faithfully she designed every facet; from the musical selections played by the recorder choir my dad loved listening to once a month when they played at church & by the organist in the prelude, to the ones performed by my brother (on guitar) and my nieces (on violin and viola, and again vocally). All the songs the congregation sang were also favorites of my dad.

The best part of the service for me, though, were the words of remembrance given by my brother and my nephew (representing the kids and grandkids), followed by a random and spontaneous selection of comments offered by the guests in attendance, that the pastor went around capturing with a cordless microphone. Although I knew many of the folk reminiscing and could even remember firsthand some of the anecdotes they shared, it was very interesting hearing how my dad had touched their lives and it was gratifying they wanted us to know what he had meant to them.

I wasn't able to contribute anything for the service personally, but I also had the opportunity to pay tribute to my dad by preparing a number of small visual exhibits (for the reception afterwards), celebrating various facets of his life:
1. his artistic talents,

2. his hard work for the International YMCA organization throughout his entire life,

3. his dedication as an editor to many newsletters through the years,

4. his work as a college professor, advisor to foreign students and as the director of Continuing Education at his school and later Assistant to the President (of the college).

5. I had a poster of a world map on the wall, with strings glued from many countries where he worked as consultant and trainer for the Y, to photos from those experiences arranged on the outer border.

6. There was a collage of photos celebrating his life as family man and friend to so many.

My biggest regret was that I never took a proper photo of the exhibit before dismantling it. But I was glad many who attended the reception got to see it. My son was able to catch this one shot of part of it, anyway.

A dear friend wrote me just before I left for the states to attend the service that this was my father's last gift to all of us: the opportunity to gather together and celebrate his life. I felt his presence there, without having him physically present.

I felt him in my eldest brother, who is so like him in character (despite his great efforts to the contrary), it was a little spooky.

I felt him in my cousin, whom I hadn't met in 40 years so it hit me like a ton of bricks when he reminded me of my uncle (who was Dad's younger brother).

I felt him in my son, who dutifully took it upon himself to be the cameraman of the event, bless his heart. I had the same familiar sense of security, knowing I didn't need to use my camera at all and he would "cover" things for all of us (just like my dad used to do).

I felt him in my nephew, who has the same friendly people skills imbedded in his genes!

Daddy was everywhere -- in the Y's Men and Women who loved him enough to come all the way from my hometown in Illinois to attend.

And I felt him in the people of the retirement community where he lived for nearly 13 years, touching lives in a significant way.

The entire day was a joyous celebration of HIS LIFE, beyond any argument. And it proved what I have believed all along: that there is much more value in holding a big party to honor the one that has "gone before" us, rather than have a funeral to mourn their passing, and our loss. In the case of my dad, there wasn't anything lost. He added life everywhere he was and through everyone he touched. Even through his death, LIFE is what remains for us and LIFE is beckoning us to follow in his footsteps!

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