A Parting Gift

By: Steve Fowler
Tuesday, June 9, 2015

We had a family reunion last week.

I visited with folks I haven’t seen in years. Spent a little time with some cousins who I rarely see but think of often. It was a nice gathering. I think we all really enjoyed it. And I’m sure she was absolutely delighted…

You see, we had all gathered to say goodbye to my Grandmother. Some of us at her Hospice bedside and then many more at the funeral home, church and cemetery. Just days from her 95th birthday, she had lived a long, fulfilling life; loving us, teaching us and making all of us better people along the way. She was a special lady and a ‘Grandmother’ in every good sense of both words. We will all love her forever and she’ll never be forgotten.

Certainly we were sad for her loss, shed our tears and shared our hugs but, as my eloquent cousin admonished us in a wonderful eulogy, Grammie had left behind very specific instructions. Turn off the tears and get on with the party!

And, you know what? We did.

The conversation around her bed was cheerful and filled with heart-warming memories. Photo albums were handed around and smiles were the order of the day. We took turns holding her hands as she slept, gently and peacefully taking the final steps on her journey with us. We were together, with her and with each other, treasuring the experience and grateful for the opportunity to do so.

When the time came, so did more family, friends, neighbours and co-workers, to visit, to the funeral, the reception and the cemetery. And afterward an aunt opened her home so that some of us could squeeze in just a couple of hours more together. To talk, to eat, to remember and especially to honour the legacy my Grandmother had left us – family.

I know this was her plan – her party and her parting gift to all of us. For the first time in many years most of her family was together – all who could be, were there. From Halifax to Vancouver and many points in between we were gathered to celebrate her and support one another. It was sad and it was wonderful and she would have loved it.

Now, because it’s my privilege to make my living helping funeral directors make theirs, the rest of this may seem self-serving to some and, if so, so be it, but please read before you judge.

In my work, I write and talk a lot about the importance of recognizing a loss and of coming together to give and seek support as you cope with it. That is part of my job, but it’s also something I sincerely believe in. Both my own experience and my work have convinced me that we need to share our grief and that we are strengthened and healed by doing so.

I’m saddened when I read – much too often these days – “there will be no visitation or funeral.” I’m not lamenting lost business but something much more important. While many of these families will find their own ways to recognize their loss, in some cases what that phrase means is that this family will not have the experience that I did last week. The outpouring of support, the time with loved ones, the shared tears and laughter, the memories that come when we come together and that somehow heal us in ways we don’t really understand.

So I make my plea; if a traditional funeral isn’t for you, that’s OK, but find a way – your own way – to reflect, to mourn, to celebrate and to come together both with those who share your loss and with others in your life that genuinely want to be there for you. And, if you’re at a stage in life where you’re considering your own final plans, please think carefully before you make a decision not to ‘burden’ your busy family with travel and ritual.

We had a family reunion last week. It was no burden at all. Thanks Gram!

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