When I Reach the Finish Line

Gary Temple--one of the kindest souls I have ever met.

Gary Temple–one of the kindest souls I have ever met.

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.

finish-lineLike 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.

wine-stain1-3So 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.

FullSizeRender(3)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?

 

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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34 Responses to When I Reach the Finish Line

  1. talkavino says:

    A very good post on the extremely difficult subject, Jeff. I don’t think there is an easy line between right and wrong here. I think it is simply important for those who lives to remember those who are gone – and when that includes raising a glass to someone’s memory this is just a great way to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. susielindau says:

    I went to a Memorial service this weekend for my brother-in-law who I grew up with.
    It is always weird to giggle and laugh at these events and yet, that’s what we did. There were some tears too, but overall we remembered him. It’s the final rite of passage and we all needed to pay tribute in order to put it behind us. It was a bittersweet family reunion weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so sorry you lost your dear friend Gary.

    Like

  4. ahughes553 says:

    It is not the act that matters so much (in celebrating vs. respecting one’s life), but the intention. Your intention was true, and that has made all the difference. Celebrate life, share stories and memories, and honor the dead with the rituals or rites of passage with good intention. We will honor you likewise when that (distant) time comes, and there won’t be any ambivalence about how:) Salud!

    Like

  5. Sorry to hear about your friend. Funerals are tough, but something we obviously all face. I don’t think anybody can judge you for your way of celebrating your friends life. The most important thing is that you were, in fact, celebrating his life.

    Cheers
    Josh

    Liked by 1 person

  6. foxress says:

    I’m so sorry, Jeff. Everyone mourns differently. I don’t think anyone can judge you for toasting you’re friend’s life, especially if the wine paves the way for sharing fond memories. I’d say that’s a very productive way to mourn. I hope others who were close to him can appreciate that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Death is weird and everyone has their own way of dealing with it, I suppose. While I want to respect how others choose to grieve, this was the best way I thought to celebrate his life….

      Like

  7. mrsugarbears says:

    I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. I think you treated the service and the eulogy beautifully. I would have gladly joined you for a taste had I been there and in no way would I have thought it was insensitive that you had wine there. I am much more inclined to the Celebration of Life service. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I wish I had known you were in town. Mr. Temple was a great guy. I didn’t know he died until I read your blog. You were the perfect person for the job.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I enjoyed your post Jeff. Death is a challenging subject. I find solace in my faith, but also believe that there are many paths to the mountain top if you will. I think it’s fantastic that you brought along some wines and celebrated his life. I believe that’s how it should be and would want the same for myself….Well done my friend, well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A great post, Jeff, and a great interpretation of the finish theme. And I’ve wrestled with this very issue more than once. In my book, there’s nothing disrespectful or insensitive about a bottle of wine, even in death. In fact, I’ve sent a bottle of wine or Champagne as a bereavement gift on several occasions (of course, this gift depends on the recipient — sometimes, you just gotta go with flowers), along with a note explaining that it’s my hope that when the time is right, they will open the bottle of wine and raise a glass to memory, and celebrate a life well lived.

    Again, my condolences on the loss of your friend. I’m glad you raised a glass in remembrance and celebration. Salud!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I really agree with your point of view. Death is an everyday occurrence. You and your friend were lucky to know each other and life and death and relationships should all be celebrated. I’m sorry for your loss and I’m glad you got to speak for your friend, to your friend and provide comfort to those who knew him. A glass of wine really helps sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that we make death out to be such a mystical thing, it just adds to the anxiety surrounding it. Sure, be sad, but also realize all the death that occurs so that we can live. And a glass of wine always helps!

      Like

  12. cyardin says:

    Condolences on the loss of your friend. Others will have judged whichever path you chose to celebrate his life. But in the end, the only thing that would have mattered is if your friend would have appreciated the toast. I hazard to guess that he would have very much appreciated it.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. When my dad passed away there was no service per his wishes, when my mom passed fifteen years earlier, i was younger and family came to my home after her services. There was alcohol everywhere as i like alcohol, but i never got drunk, nor did anyone else, and my mom was not a drinker period. Its a celebration of their life, some services are low key and some are extravagant. I wouldn’t want friends and family crying, id want them to laugh and smile and remember all my craziness, over wine and my favorite brews!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Nick Katin says:

    It’s funny how it takes a death for us to start thinking about it. Having just been to two funerals (my dad and my wife’s aunt) I can completely relate to your sentiment. After the funeral (yes, another) of a dear friend last year I was determined to write down what sort of funeral I want. “my funeral and my rules”. One of those rules would involve the consumption of any wine of quality that I haven’t got round to drinking yet. Hopefully that will act as a spur to make sure there’s none left by the time I reach the “finish line”!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Thanks so much for your comment–it sounds like we are on similar wave lengths. Drink the good stuff now, and if I don’t get to it all, you better promise that you will drink it for me–I would turn over in my grave if it went to waste!

      Like

  15. Shelley says:

    Toasting your friend was your way of honouring him. All good in my books.

    Like

  16. Ellen Hawley says:

    We celebrate people’s lives and mourn them in the ways that fit them, and us. And it sounds like you found a good way. At my mother’s memorial, some of the young people who’d worked with her poured shots of vodka, straight, and offered them around. She wasn’t a heavy drinker, but she was known for liking straight vodka. It was a touching a beautiful thing to do–and she’d have laughed.

    Like

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