Time goes by unfettered. You certainly can’t slow it down or hold onto it – even if you want to. When you are young and in the thick of living, time is your rival. You must keep up with that ticking clock – it rules the day. As you age, the clock becomes a different kind of rival. The focus isn’t trying to fit as much into that little face of hours and minutes but to keep that little face from bowling you over. (In this modern day of technology, the clock no longer has a face….but a digital readout. I’m outdated in my analogies…)
I recently attended the celebration of life for one of my high school teachers. It was interesting to see the ensemble of retired teachers in attendance. They looked so old. Made me feel young-er, sort of. Stepping into the old school and sitting in the gym, where I played basketball and sang in concerts and played french horn in the band – I began to feel old again.
The teacher we were celebrating was the business teacher from 1972 until approx 2001. He coached basketball, football, wrestling and was involved in several other extracurricular business class organizations. He had a daughter, a son and several grandsons. When he retired from our school, he moved to another larger city to be near his daughter and son. He continued to work as a teacher until he was diagnosed with liver cancer a couple of years ago. By all accounts, he was a very fun-loving, caring and giving person. He loved his wife, his family, playing golf and teaching. He died in July but they arranged this little celebration for those of us who could attend his funeral in July.
I grew up in a small town and attended a small, rural high school. My graduating class had 26 students. Most of us had attended all twelve years of school together. In those days, the teachers lived and raised their families in the community as well. Because they were a part of the community, they were committed to the school and to teaching. They certainly weren’t there to make money!
Attending the celebration of life was a walk down memory lane. Of course, there was talk about his life, what he loved, how kind he was and there were funny stories about different points in his lifetime in our valley. It was sad and funny – as it should be. Seeing my old teachers, talking about those old days, made me ruminate about my life as a teenager. I have always known that I have limited memories of those years. Of course, my focus at the time was about my appearance, my peers and my nonexistent love-life. In addition to pondering those old days, I also observed the crowd and considered the celebration ceremony itself and how I would do things differently at my own funeral/memorial.
In recent years, I have attended more funerals than in my younger years. Stands to reason, I am getting older. Parents, friends, and other family members, are reaching the age of mortality. These things come to the forefront, not only as we age, but as we lose friends, family or acquaintances through illness or accidental death. It just feels more prevalent as you consider your own age in the process. And since my mother is ill and in a memory care facility, I am always thinking about preparations for her funeral.
This was a celebration of life, well after death. While it was still a bit raw for his immediate family, it wasn’t as difficult or as emotional as it was two months ago at his funeral service. This ceremony was meant for those of us who couldn’t attend his funeral but still wanted to have a chance to say our good-byes. There were several speakers, music was played and there was a reading of an open letter written by him a couple of months prior to his actual death. All very touching and heart-felt. Then the family requested any comments or stories from the audience (an “open mic” as it were). Several people shared stories or memories about the teacher, mostly funny little anecdotes or expressing gratitude for his work as a teacher or coach. Then – hobbling up to the microphone, came a retired teacher – who decided to tell her own life’s story about the horrors of teaching. She said very little about the man we were honoring. She was talking to hear the sound of her own voice. It. was. painful. And far too long.
This made me question the logic of having an open mic at a memorial/funeral service – it seems there is ALWAYS someone who takes advantage of the opportunity for a captive audience. I’ve been to several funerals where this has occurred. So I’ve decided that at my mother’s funeral (and at my own) there will be a precept for the open microphone – something along these lines: “We have limited time so please only share stories ABOUT the deceased. No need to try to convert anyone to your religious beliefs or to discuss your own life history. AND if you can’t say it in 10 sentences or less, you really should write it down and send it to the family as a personal message. Better yet, write it in your journal and have it read at your own funeral. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Of course, I am being facetious – we really wouldn’t say that but we would want to…. A funeral/memorial should be about the person you are honoring. Stories about THEM. Stories that generates a pleasant sensation and something that will bring peace to the family as they remember the person they’ve lost.