Those of you who read every word of my blog (I am not sure if that person exists, but regardless…), know that I went back “home” this weekend for the memorial service of a very dear friend of mine. His name was Gary Temple, and I first met him when I was in his sixth grade classroom.
He started out as my teacher, then a father-figure, and eventually a dear friend. He died a few weeks ago and shortly afterwards I was asked if I wanted to speak at the memorial service. I do not know if there is anyone that ever wants to speak at a funeral, after all it means that the subject of the talk is no longer alive, but for me, I felt like I needed to speak.
I guess a part of me felt guilty for not being there more for him–the last few years of his life were quite difficult for myriad reasons, and I was too far away to offer any assistance. Like many, it was my way of saying goodbye, thank you, and “I’m sorry.”
I spent most of the last two weeks thinking about and writing my eulogy (which was only slightly over a thousand words, but was one of the hardest pieces I have ever written), and, consequently, I thought quite a bit about death in general, and my own “finish line” in particular.
Like for most people, I imagine, death is a rather strange concept for me. While we are around death all the time–hearing about it on the news for various reasons, seeing (but perhaps not noticing) it with just about every bite we take (be it animal or plant), and regularly trying to avoid it–I really have no idea what happens once you cross that finish line.
Dying is every bit a part of living. Not only is it inevitable, but it occurs every day. So in some respects, death is an everyday occurrence. Sure, when it happens to a loved one, which luckily does not occur on a daily basis, that day stands out and is unlike most “normal” days, but there is no getting around the fact that death is around us constantly.
As you might have guessed, I am not all that religious, and I do not mean for this post to question others beliefs–not in the slightest. But as I was watching and talking to people this weekend, I could not help but wonder what my own service would resemble.
So for me, the way that I try to “handle” death, is to as much as possible, treat it like any other day. Perhaps that sounds callous, or maybe even naïve, but what are the alternatives? Sure, I do my best to “honor the memory” of the recently deceased, and if we had a relationship, I reflect on the memories we shared, and of course I am sad. But I would think that most people would not want others to wallow and perseverate over their own death for too long.
I know I wouldn’t want that at my funeral. At my funeral, I hope people go straight down into my cellar and pop as many corks as they want and have a grand old time.
This weekend, on the way to the luncheon following the service, I stopped and bought a few bottles of wine to share (a few people knew I was “into wine” and expressed that their joy for the fermented grape juice, so I knew I could entice them to join me). I opened the champagne first, which we used to toast our good friend, and eventually proceeded on to the Pinot and the Zin.
For me, opening a bottle of wine is a celebration, and this was my way to celebrate my friend’s life. Later that afternoon, I wondered if others in attendance thought that my bringing wine to the event was somehow inappropriate. Gary was by no means a wine drinker, but he did love his Vodka Gimlets, and near the end of his life, he struggled a bit with alcohol (which might be an understatement).
This country has such a strange relationship with alcohol, I wondered if others at the service saw my act of bringing wine to the table was insensitive; that by opening some wine when we were supposed to be celebrating his life was ignoring his own internal battles.
So by opening some wine, to celebrate his life the way I celebrate, was I being insensitive? Was I being disrespectful in some way to his memory?
Obviously, I did not think so–I was choosing to celebrate my friend in the way that I live my life. I often hear that funerals are not for the dead but for the living. But is that really true? Where is the line between celebrating one’s life, but also respecting it?