Cedar and Pearl

Funerals: the stuff of life

By Susan Piotti | May 10, 2016

Editor’s note: Susan Piotti, wife of our regular columnist, John Piotti, is writing this week.

“I hate funerals, and would not attend my own if it could be avoided.” — Robert T. Morris

I do not agree with Robert T. Morris. Funerals do not make me uncomfortable. It may be an exaggeration to say I enjoy them, but I am always pleased that I attend. I would not want to miss all that funerals provide to learn more about someone I cared about, or to be in the company of so many others who also cared about this person.

This realization comes to me late in life, and is surprising to many of my friends. Most feel as Mr. Morris. But for me, funerals serve as a centering occasion — a time to hear the stories that paint a memorable picture of the one who has died, and a time to remember others who I’ve loved and lost.

My parents were old-school WASPs who, I gather, due to rigorous polite restraint, stereotypically avoided dealing with death whenever possible. They protected me and even my much older siblings from the specter of funerals. I learned at my mom’s funeral 18 months ago that my older brothers were dissuaded to go to their much-loved grandfather’s funeral when I was 10, even though they were 18 and 19 at the time. And when my aunt died while I was in college, my parents poo-pooed any inkling I had to attend the funeral. Thus I didn’t go — sadly hurting both my favorite cousin and my own chance to connect with my aunt on a deeper level.

Because I work in medicine, as a family practice provider, death touches my day-to-day duties more often than others my age. In the two-week period that just ended, I attended two funerals and a wake.

The two funerals were for elderly women. One woman had suffered greatly from unrelenting illness. Her family was relatively prepared for her passing — and her death was a release from her suffering. The other woman had, until her last few days, led a full and healthy life. Her death was a shock, more difficult to accept. The wake was for a younger man who died suddenly and tragically.

The three seemingly dissimilar deaths had surprisingly similar services.

At the wake, many folks milled about outside in the sun (too many for the dim funeral home), chatting and reminiscing. I was impressed with the number of people I knew, and by how many I did not know (including a group of young, earnest Amish men and women) who were obviously part of this man’s life. I had not known this man very long, but the number of respectful visitors, and their diversity, clearly showed that he had touched many lives. It was impossible not to be affected by that. I was thankful that I could have the experience.

The two funerals were true celebrations of life. Both had music and poetry, anecdotal memories and lots and lots of photographs. There was little discussion of the afterlife to come. Rather, the services were all about the lives that they had lived, their passions, and how the people in the congregation had been touched, molded and forever changed by their relationship with the deceased.

I have always found ruminations of “life beyond the grave” rather implausible and not at all comforting. Whatever happens after death is certainly not life as it has been. With these two women, hearing the stories of their lives, feeling the immense waves of love as the speakers struggled through their tears — that provided comfort enough.

Since her passing, I often weep for my mom at funerals. Although some of my memories are painful, the overall effect is good. It’s good to honor her and remember her. I can’t forget how she — like these other women — had had such a profound impact on hundreds of others, but especially me.

After attending funerals like this, I can’t help but assess my own life. Can I hope to leave a legacy like these women?

Inevitably, I ponder what will happen at my own funeral.

After an exhaustive recounting of all the fantastic, amazing and wonderful things I have done and all the lives I have touched, I want music and poetry, anecdotal memories and lots and lots of photos. I want the mourners to arrive expecting an uneasy gloom, and be happily surprised by the number and diversity of family and friends, chatting and enjoying the sun. I want the people there to ponder what their own funerals will be like, and then wonder about how many lives they have touched.

Maybe that will encourage them to go out and touch a few more.

Susan Piotti of Unity is a physician assistant at Inland Family Care.

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