The memorials I’ve attended have been very solemn occasions. We all wore black. We comforted each other in hushed tones. We cried. We hugged. And after we mourned the life of the person we’d lost, we left with small holes in our hearts.
Mom hated that crap.
Mom died just before Mother’s Day last year after a long, hard battle with thyroid cancer — the kind you’re not supposed to die from. We hadn’t really discussed her wishes much beyond the idea that she wanted her ashes scattered in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, her favorite area of the country. I tried to ask her about how she envisioned the memorial a couple of times in that rough last year, and she just flicked her hand and said, “Whatever your father wants.”
My sister, father and I were all together for her final moments, and Papa was relieved when the two of us took the lead on the plans. We didn’t want to make people sadder than they already were. We wanted a celebration.
Our guests said it was the best memorial service they had ever been to. We had a officiant emcee a non-denominational program and showed a beautiful montage of our favorite pictures. And then things started to seriously veer from the traditional funeral script.
When I stepped up to the podium, I invited her young grandsons to join me. They held giant countdown cards for “The Top Ten Reasons We Love Beppy,” which I delivered David Letterman style. I brought up Mom’s love of (ok, addiction to) candy, and I pointed our guests to a candy buffet we had set up with all her favorite sweets. Another Top Ten moment celebrated Mom’s love of flowers, and we had prepared “Lovely Parting Gifts” for everyone: memorial cards made out of paper embedded with wildflower seeds. We had also filled the room and entryway with live flowers and asked people to take them home and plant them in her honor.
We wore bright colors. We regaled each other with warm memories. We laughed. We cried. We hugged. And after we celebrated the life of the person we’d lost, we left with uplifted spirits knowing how many lives she had touched.
Mom would have loved it.
Photo credit: Jessica Parrott-Robitaille
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