Memorializing the dead. Like a celebration of continuity, a reminder that all things end, an acknowledgement of birth’s more bitter half, a realization of the logical conclusion to what was begun.
This afternoon I attended a memorial service for Jenny’s mother.
A funeral it was not. I have no interest in such things.
Funerals delve into a shadowy realm of despair. They represent a selfish endeavor meant to feed the monster of lamentation. Bodies are put on display like trophies and emotions are worn on sleeves like badges.
Funerals place a beloved life’s last memory in the pale of a lifeless form, a public tear, a too-soon demonstration of what has been lost, a cataclysmic defamation of cherished passion.
Most disturbingly, funerals circle like vultures about a terrible practice only we humans have: storing our dead. We put them away as if they might be needed later, as though what nature created can somehow be retained so long as we know precisely where a loss rests.
Not to belittle cemeteries, mind you, as they hold their own special fascination, but too much effort, space, resources and time burn on the altar of humanity’s need to keep the dead preserved, identified, stowed for later retrieval—even if only emotional, assuming that much.
Memorials, on the other hand, are a horse of a different color.
While I have no interest in debating the religious overtones of the gathering, the spirit of the event was empowering.
A great movement from loss to benefit surged through those most affected. It marked a turning in the road, a curve away from the mourning of loss toward acceptance and recognition of the gift given by the taking.
Her suffering has ended. She’s not fighting her Alzheimer’s anymore. At least we know the pain is gone.
So much truth in those words, in those almost cliché phrases.
I have no belief Jenny’s mother somehow became transmuted to some existence on a spiritual plane governed by deities too disinterested to help a starving child in Africa, too self-aggrandizing to bestow eternal life on anyone who puts trust in facts rather than faith, and too self-serving to protect the rape victim, the father of four with cancer, the innocent yet equally potent life not called human, or the mother struggling to care for six children who inadvertently steps into the road at the wrong time.
No, I have no interest in the falsehoods of religion. They offer hope only to those who hear and accept the message. What if you never hear? What if you can’t accept because it contradicts everything your eyes see and your ears hear?
I say again I do not believe some magical transformation from physical to spiritual has occurred. What I do believe is that tremendous suffering has ended because nature was allowed to take its course; I do believe a body broken was relieved of anguish; and I do believe that, as Einstein once said, energy is never created or destroyed, but it does transfigure from one form to another. What once lived and breathed as walking flesh might somehow join the chorus of the universe in a way that all beings, all life can enjoy.
Whether or not such a change holds a consciousness together remains a debate for those not yet dead. I have no interest in the truth of the matter.
However, I do have interest in what becomes after the loss. That truth measures its being in the realm of the living, not the dead.
Billie, Jenny’s mother, bequeathed to the world a dashing marvel witnessed in what she left behind: a husband deeply touched, so much so that the humor and magnificence of a life lost meant more than any exquisite portrayal of despair could ever contain; and a daughter moved to tears and laughter at the thought of the person she once knew, a daughter—my dear friend—who is loved dearly as much as she loves dearly, and who by any stretch of the imagination is a bit of pottery fashioned in the likeness of one now given up to days gone by.
What we leave behind is as important as what we carry with us. What we create is as important as what is remembered in our absence. What we impart to the reflection of history is as important as what we reflect in the mirror of today.
This afternoon, I witnessed the best of all possible outcomes following the death of a loved one.
I can only hope I am as strong as these when it comes time to let go, that I am as touched as these when it comes time to remember, and that I am as loved as this one when others must choose whether I live or die.