The Things We Leave Behind

Funerals make me feel awkward.

I have a chronic inability to deal with death, so I deflect. There are two ways I do this. Humour helps me deal with emotional upheaval because I find it goes a long way toward making the unbearable, bearable. My first step is to try and find a little levity. Note I say a little, because a funeral is obviously not the right time to be cheerful and gay and too much levity is disrespectful. There are other ways of processing trauma and my method may not be the most mature way of going through the stages of grief, so I can’t exactly recommend you kids do this at home. If it helps you with discomfort and pain, you’re welcome to try. Just remember to be appropriate about it. No one wants a crazy guest in the corner, pointing and laughing at a hearse.

death becomes them.gif
I blame Meryl Streep for my issues.

The second way I deal is to have takeaways. I note specific details to incorporate in my own funeral, i.e. open vs. closed casket, appropriate Biblical passages, whom I would want doing the eulogy, what to feed the guests. I never had plans for a dream wedding but it would seem I have plans for a dream funeral.

I met my aunt when I was much much younger, and I knew the basics: she was a nurse, had two boys, lived in Montreal. It wasn’t until her funeral that I found out she hadn’t just been a nurse, she’d been the head nurse of a prestigious hospital and a damn good one. So good, after she retired they named a hospital award after her. She was socially active, a woman who touched many, and had been, by all accounts, a pearl of a human being. For her funeral this week, I didn’t need very much levity. I am fortunate to have extended family in these parts and we were all together for the first time in a while, which meant stories of the misadventures of my aunts, uncles and cousins were shared to everyone’s delight. It also meant we were creating new memories just by being together again, catching up after a bit of time had passed. You can always make new friends and keep the old, but there’s nothing quite like the shared history unique to people related by blood. It seemed like a great way to honour her memory in a land far away from the place where she was born.

They say we take nothing with us when we die. I think we spend so much time making it a priority to enjoy the things we can’t bring with us, we forget to focus on what we actually leave behind. And this was my takeaway: while we take nothing with us when we pass on, we leave everything behind for others to deal with. And although we are by nature more forgiving when it comes to remembering someone who’s already dead, it does matter that we leave behind as many good memories of ourselves as possible because no one wants to be remembered as a jerk. It doesn’t matter if we’re no longer around to enjoy our own eulogies. It matters that others don’t struggle to write a decent one for us.

2 thoughts on “The Things We Leave Behind

  1. My friend Roy just died. He left me good, and not-so-good memories. But because his honesty and remorseful way of seeking forgiveness was always sincere and genuine, the good outweighed the not-so-good. He was successful to me, but he was never that high on the plateau for him. I guess that led to the breakdown of his health. Among other things. Now that he’s dead, I keep haunting myself with what I should’ve said more often to him, how much he affected my life in a positive way. How, in the world we live in now, I could cry an injustice caused by him. How, in the world that’s become now, he must make amends with the few he may have “touched”, or “rubbed” the wrong way. But, he’s gone, and I cry these out to emptiness. If our hunches are right, he was dead for two weeks before found. So tragic. So unlike the burst of his personality. He should’ve gone in a blazing glory. But he was alone. And how tragic is it that he was alone with the horrifying truth that death was imminent, it is coming, and there is no one around. But maybe he chose it this way. Create the fuss only when we are left to pick up pieces of ourselves connected to him. We are a big web – each woman and man sharing the Roy that was vivacious, brilliant, master storyteller, brutal editor, slow drinker, etc. I think of all the legacies he left behind in film and arts and journalism, it is that we are now determined to reach out to one another more often than we do beyond milestone greetings in FB. But I am still sad.


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