In February 2010, I attended a memorial service for Ann Sakiyama, whom I was not privileged to know as well as most others who were there. It was a beautiful service, a final tribute from all who knew and loved her. We went because we have loved her husband like a brother for over forty years. Though the old group of which we were all a part in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s has spread out geographically, we are still dear to each other and try to be there for each other when someone is going through the deep waters. I last saw most of this group of friends at my daughter’s memorial service last June.
As we all gathered to eat together after the service, I probably wasn’t the only one wondering, “Who’s next?” or “What will they say at my service?” When we met, we were all under thirty. Now most of us are retired or approaching retirement. At least one has survived a heart attack. Another fights cancer. Each time we gather to mourn a loss, I know we are thinking that we don’t want to gather for this reason again very soon. As someone said when we were leaving the luncheon yesterday, “Let’s have the next get-together be a party, not a memorial service.”
What a great idea! What would be really memorable would be a relaxed weekend in the same hotel or resort where we could meet and tell each other now, in person, what we have appreciated in each other over the years while we all still have mouths to speak and ears to hear. We used to attend retreats together, why not another now, while we can still do it, for the express purpose of celebrating what our friendships have meant all this time? So much we leave unspoken and wait to share when the words can no longer be heard. Some of us spend money to attend high school reunions to be with the people we haven’t kept up with. Why not spend the same money for a reunion with the group of people you really do care about?
If we can’t physically find a way to do this, why not set aside some time to write some notes to your old friends now – while they can still read them. Why wait until they are gone to write your thoughts of what they meant — to their surviving families? Not good with words on paper? Pick up the phone. Not good with words at all when it comes to feelings? Maybe just a note or a hug with the words: Your friendship has meant more over the years than words can express.
Feel really uncomfortable about doing this? Practice on your family. No one needs to hear our tributes more than our family members, whom we often take for granted. Some of you have already lost parents, spouses, or children. I hope you had time to let them know how much you loved and appreciated them before you had to say a final goodbye. If you still have them, start letting them know now how much they mean to you. If you have to leave them suddenly, don’t let them be wondering what you thought of them. Don’t assume that your unspoken feelings have been picked up.
I always try to make sure that when my husband goes out the door to go to the gym every day, he knows I love him and want him to come home safely. I try to make sure that if we have quarreled, all is well between us before he goes out that door or goes to sleep. I let him know he is irreplaceable in my heart and life and a special treasure and gift from God. I was also fortunate enough to have realized before Jason’s accident that children do die suddenly, and I made a special point after another family lost a child a few days before we lost Jason to tell Jason how much I loved and appreciated him. I’m glad those were his last memories of me.
These are the kinds of thoughts I have as I look into the faces of those I care most about when we mourn together. I hope that at the next memorial service, the one we are mourning will have heard our personal tributes in person ahead of time, before it’s too late.