This weekend I went to my first "celebration of life." The mother of a long-time co-worker (Dick) died. Dick left our company a few years ago, so we see each other maybe once a year.
People in our company are really good about supporting current as well as former co-workers, and three of us set off for a 65 minute ride across town, in a driving rain, to attend this celebration ceremony (I was gonna call it something else to be less redundant, but what can you call it - bash?... I'll just keep calling it a celebration).
I have only attended official funerals in my life. I am a religious reader of death notices (I know I'm not the only one who's like that), and I have seen some celebration of life notices and wondered what they were like.
Some of the funerals I have attended have really been disheartening to me. They are held in a church or synagogue or funeral home, and sometimes the person speaking doesn't even know the deceased. In others, there are many prayers said and the deceased seems to be an incidental part of the service. I am not a big organized religion person, and I don't like the sitting, standing, sitting, standing, and reading of prayers. I know it brings comfort to some people - I am not one of those people.
So I have decided, after this weekend, that when it's my time, I want the "celebration" concept. The woman who died was very active and involved in life. She had been a teacher, was active in the boat club (where the celebration was held), and was a very youthful mom and grandma.
We all met at the boat club and went into a big room that had tables set up. Food (good food!) was arranged on tables. A person who described himself as a life celebrant or a name close to that, talked about Ruth. That was the sole reason for everyone getting together, and Ruth was the sole topic of discussion. Ruth had been living with lung cancer for a while and was doing well with it, until she ended up with pneumonia and quickly decided she didn't want any heroic means to keep her alive. She gathered her family to tell them that, and she was gone not long after that. She told her family she did not want a funeral. Well the funeral directors suggested that the family have this celebration ceremony - a "non-funeral." And the man presiding over the ceremony told us we were not to call this a funeral - this was a non-funeral. He talked about Ruth after meeting with the family and getting an idea of who Ruth was and what she was about. Then he opened the floor for anyone else to speak. One of the grandchildren (a CPA, he told us, who had been helped in math by Ruth, the former math teacher) got up to speak and his sister accompanied him "for moral support." He spoke very lovingly about his grandma and late nights spent playing cards at her house. And how all his friends just looked at her as being much younger than her years. One woman told the group that she had called her son, a former student of Ruth's, to tell him about Ruth's passing, and he told her he would always remember how kind Ruth was to a fellow student who had lost a parent at a young age. And one older woman, with advanced arthritis, explained that she wanted to talk but couldn't stand up, so she sat in her chair and told us what a good friend Ruth had been and how they would play cards together. It was all very informal, and there was none of the nervous feeling that you get at funerals. The family recognized that they were lucky to have had Ruth in their lives, and they all knew that a part of her would continue on within each of them.
Then we ate. And visited. Since I started working with Dick in 1978, there were people there from the long ago past who I had not seen in many years. It was just a very nice affair, getting together, giving our support, learning more about Dick's mom, and well -- celebrating a life. And that is how I think the end of life should be.