When my father died in July 1996, we held the memorial service a couple of days later, just to get it done. (Dad was cremated so there was no regular funeral.) Our entire family was physically and emotionally exhausted, and we felt it best to just get it done, not prolong the ordeal. So Dad died on Thursday and the memorial service was held on Saturday at St. Paul's.
There was a family wedding in Charleston that same weekend. Several members of the extended family called and said they had planned to go to the wedding but now they were torn because they felt they should go to Dad's funeral. To everyone who conveyed that message, we said: GO to the wedding. Go to a happy event. Celebrate life. That's what Dad would've wanted. They all called or wrote us, and that was fine.
A close friend of mine was also going to a wedding and I said by all means go, don't worry about coming to Augusta. Go and celebrate life.
So I was rather disgusted to see so many folks criticizing William Shatner for missing the funeral of Leonard Nimoy. He was attending a charity event in Florida the night before, and he felt it was important to honor that commitment. He Tweeted: I chose to honor a commitment I made months ago to appear at a charitable fundraiser. A lot of money was raised. So here I am; tell me off.
I want to point out a couple of things.
First of all, Shatner is 83 years old. He was supposed to go to the event, and spend all night on a plane to California, then show up at a 9 a.m. funeral?! That's a lot to ask, even of someone in their prime.
Second, his daughters were there.
Third, he did fly to California the next day, and joined the family later in the day.
Finally, I am sure Leonard Nimoy didn't care one way or the other. He is in heaven, and I'm sure he's not concerned with the cares of this world any longer.
Funerals and memorial services are for the living, not the dead. They are for folks to pay respects and comfort the family and close friends left behind. They are a way to give closure to those grieving.
My mother no longer goes to funerals. I was with her when she attended the last funeral she ever went to, not long after Dad died. A close friend of Mom and Dad's, Angel [her name was so fitting] died. She had pre-planned a lovely service at her church. Beautiful hymns were played. Mom sat and cried.
When my uncles [Dad's brothers] died, Mom didn't attend the funerals. She called my aunts. She went to the gathering after Bob's funeral. She just had a horror or going to the service and becoming emotionally unwound, and winding up in a sobbing heap. I have no problem with her skipping funerals. You can pay respects and comfort the ones left behind without attending the final show.
When Dad was alive, for his entire career, he made Mom go with him to a LOT of funerals, often people she didn't know, but Dad knew through business connections. He always was hyper-aware of keeping up appearances. He didn't consider Mom's feelings, though. She would cry throughout the service, even if she didn't know the folks. The music would get to her.
When Dad died there was absolutely no music in the church. At the time I was a bit irritated by that. I felt like Dad would've wanted everyone to hear his favorite hymns, like "The Old Rugged Cross." But it was more important that Mom not dissolve in tears and feel like she had embarrassed herself. We had to honor HER feelings. Dad was beyond caring.
I feel like the most important thing to do when someone dies is to honor the folks left behind. Go see them. Take supper to them. Let some time pass and take your friend/relative out to lunch, or to a movie. Write a nice letter. Some of the best letters we got after Dad died were from old neighbors and friends who recalled funny anecdotes about Dad. They were not professional writers, by any means. They were able to bring back happy memories of him for us, and that was so important and valuable. It was enough.
Of course, I believe that death is simply a doorway to another existence, not the total ending of a life. I believe in spirits. I believe there is an afterlife. I feel great pity for folks who can't believe in an afterlife.
I found a quote not long after Dad died and printed it out and put it in my office where I could read it every day. It's a Chinese proverb. "The cure for dirt is soap and water. The cure for death is life." I found that so comforting.
There is a story I am going to tell here, because Mom told it to me yesterday and said she can't blog about it without getting upset, so I am going to tell it. When my grandmother Cordelia (Dad's mother) died, Mom and Dad realized about a year later that they needed to carry on her work of going to the cemetery in Hepzibah and caring for the graves of our family members buried there.
Cordelia often went and tended the graves. We have photos of her with other ladies (friends of hers) who went and worked in the cemetery.
So in early spring of 1960, Dad told Mother they needed to go out there and carry on her work. He was concerned because he wasn't sure where all the family graves were. He wasn't sure he would know where to work. Not all the graves had headstones.
But Mom and Dad went out there anyway, ready to give it their best shot.
When they got to the cemetery, there were flowers outlining every grave that needed to be tended. Cordelia had planted bulbs the year before, probably not long before she died, and so the flowers were blooming, showing Mom and Dad where they needed to work.
I love that story.