I never realized that my brother-in-law – H, scrunches up his nose when he gets laughing. David used to do the same thing and it was the moment I realized they did look like brothers. We often teased H about being the milkman’s baby. Was it odd that we were in the back of a limousine coming back from their Step Dad’s funeral when I noticed it? Probably. Did we put thought into it? No. The story involved a 5-year old H almost killing himself while tobogganing down this hill the limousine drove past. Not funny at all in hindsight. But, the brothers were laughing so hard at this memory it was like they were little kids again. Me watching them laugh so hard caused me to laugh as if I had been there too. Funny how it works.
It was about six years to the day after that funeral, did I think about it again. My friend asked me what was so funny and I shared the story letting the reminder of David come through. She grinned and told me “thanks for sharing. I like when you talk about him, I get to know more about the both of you.”
A strange fact about me, I like wakes. I hate funerals, but I like wakes.
Those days before the funeral where a vigil is kept beside the dearly departed. Sometimes rituals are included. Most of the time there is food and drink – lots of horrible church and funeral home coffee and finger foods. Hugs and handshakes sometimes follow as quiet dinner-level conversations fill the room. The odour of roses and orchids threaten to gag the room. Sometimes wakes can be the way you meet a new to you person. A person you never met but, have held an important role in your loved one’s life.
There was a period where I went through 16 funerals in 5 years. I started to find a ritual and calmness in listening to the stories about how that person existed in moments of time that I wasn’t around. When Hilda was Hilda and not “mom” When David was Uncle, Son, Brother, Troublemaker and not my Husband.
I liked the ritual of Someone cracking open a beer or a bottle of brown liquor and pouring one out for the fallen. Someone surprises you with a brand new story and you want to ask 20 questions to get details to memory. Laughter cracks through the quiet din of other people making polite conversation. You are human again for a split moment and it is glorious. You don’t feel so alone and isolated because there is a room full of people loving and remembering them too.
You are connected to all these people because of one person in your life. How cool? You might not have anything in common with these people other than the life you are there to celebrate. You are in a room where everyone is completely different from you, except the person you share.
How is that not magic?!
Someone other than you or your immediate family finds this person awesome. Someone was so affected by this person who died they felt the need to grieve this person and that is crazy to me!
“Hi you don’t know me, but I know them and I would like to sit with you for a while so we can celebrate that they existed.”
Imagine being a part of that?
I hope the deceased know they had this type of impact on the world. Are they watching from the afterlife saying “Hey! I didn’t know my mechanic thought that way of me!” “I hope Jim stops telling that story about me mom is going to hear it!”
Do you know you made that kind of ever-lasting effect on someone? Or do you kind of hope? Do people lay on their deathbeds and wonder if anyone will show up to their funeral? Do they wonder if they made an impact in someone’s life to be remembered? Not in an extravagant way, but in an “I hope my nephew remembers it was me who taught them how to play guitar” kind of way.
If you are lucky those stories will stick with you years later. One day something will remind you of a story. A memory. An Anecdote. You will laugh to yourself and allow yourself to reminisce. You are with a person, and they ask you what you are thinking about and you will get to say ‘them,’ with a peculiar fondness. And for the briefest moment, the deceased will be in the same room with you.
I hope that person will hold onto that story you told and something will remind them of it. Something small. But, for a fleeting moment, your loved one will pop into their head. maybe as an anecdote at a dinner party somewhere fifteen years from when they heard it. A lifetime ago. Maybe they will be with a loved one and they can say “Just thinking about a story I once heard…” and our loved ones can exist again between the spaces of our words and breath. Like a certain kind of magic.
Strange Fact about me: I like wakes. But Hate funerals. They are how I remember that magic can exist.