Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pondering Tart

At least some of you know I went to a funeral on Monday, and it got me thinking as only these life and death things can. For starters, I think it was the most beautiful, rich and meaningful funeral I've ever been to and I've been to a fair few. So part of my ponderances are about why that is... you know... in case any of you are planning a funeral or something. And part of it is... I don't know... how we congregate... families big and small and close and estranged, and all that stuff that we don't think about much of the year that suddenly comes home to roost for the holidays.

The Service

Without giving too much personal detail, this woman was very involved in church and community, and had been her whole life. There were four 'clerics' (since to say Minister, Reverend, Priest, Rabbi, etc. gives away a bit too much) involved—two from the church she attended most of her adult life, one from, a nearby one where she had been involved, and one from the church in my community where she came to live near her family who could care for her when she got sick. ALL of them wanted to be involved. She had touched their lives—they, the people meant to touch all of OUR lives with their teachings had felt taught.

And they all really knew her—this made an amazing difference in the quality of the service. There were stories to make us laugh. There were heart-touching stories. But I think the most telling one was this: She was a woman who could really see what somebody was capable of and pushed them to achieve it, but not so they could be their own best self. It was so they, in turn, could serve and make other peoples lives better.

I think that gets lost on us, anymore. I'm not sure if it has to do with scattering? When we move away from people we 'come from' and 'care about' and no longer feel compelled to give to our communities? Or we give, but only with a goal of glory? Or we (and I am guilty of this) plan to give when finally we are in a better position to do so?

But think about how much more fulfilling life is to pay it forward in whatever way we can. Think about thinking of your OWN GOALS in those terms—I want to be better so I can give more. It's big, isn't it?

random high school choir image
Back to the Service

The other really fantastic feature was the music. And you know what the music was? This woman had been involved in a private high school (one affiliated with her church) in a community where the public schools are pretty darned lousy. Her family had created a scholarship fund because in a poor community, many people need HELP to think about a private education, but where the public schools are lousy, that private school may be their best hope. So this choir of high school kids (who had so much talent it made me CRY) sang... and sang... and sang. A lot of singing—BEAUTIFUL singing. 'Near God' singing, and I don't say that easily. My own religious beliefs are less religion and more spirit and the way I think of God probably isn't one most of you would recognize, so I just don't throw out the word.

And I loved the HUMOR of the service. The cleric, after telling us this woman wanted us to be our best, then said if we weren't, she would haunt us. Which was EXACTLY her. She was spunk personified. I think that is how she touched so many—her approach was so APPROACHABLE. She never acted BETTER THAN anybody. She just inspired people to be BETTER. I wore a pair of reindeer antlers she gave me when we decorated our tree this year. I love a message that inspires us both to be better, and to play more... (you might know that playing thing is important to me.)

My Thoughts on Scattered Families

This particular family is NOT scattered. They've been scattered. They were a military family for many years, but they came back to their roots. Perhaps that makes the understanding of the core more precious.

MY family NEVER would have made us dress alike
My own family was always NEAR when I was growing up. My grandparents (both sets) were in my hometown and my maternal ones were only 3 blocks. I spent a LOT of time visiting my grandma. My extended family got together for every birthday and holiday. We walked into each others' houses with just a 'hello!' or in my aunt's case a 'yoohoo!'

My cousins aren't brothers, but they are most certainly closer than cousins normally are.

And I married a family I have met exactly three times. My husband's mom's funeral. His uncle's funeral. And our wedding.

He feels my family is stifling. I feel like his is... erm... not family. They are the blood relations like I know I have a big family in Iowa (my grandma's family)--I've MET many. I LIKE them. But they are relations, not family... you see what I mean? It is not the kind of thing you talk about before you merge... 'how do you like to be with extended family?'--who has that discussion?

And OTHER people build a family. My lifetime BFF always has a housefull, some 20-30% of whom are ACTUALLY related. But she adopts people. It's just how she is.

In our situation now, we are 2000 miles from my family, so while I'd love to see my family, especially those cousins, as I don't talk to them often enough, we will spend our small Christmas for four. To my husband it is the familiar way. To me it is always just a little bit sad.


Shelly said...

A life richly lived is a joy to read about. Thank you for the inspiration today-

Cold As Heaven said...

I think it's perfect to have family far away, don't want to have them running around in the backyard every day. This year we have to go down south for a big family Christmas. I would prefer a family-of-4 Christmas (or even better, no Christmas at all)

Cold As Heaven

Tonja said...

I like the idea of a big, close family, but it makes me very uncomfortable when I'm actually in the middle of that situation. Your friend sounds wonderful and very loved/lovable. I'm sorry you lost her.

GigglesandGuns said...

We have a small family though you wouldn't know it. Our homes are always full of people. I feel blessed they all feel "at home" with all of us.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't have a big family, but we moved around a lot when I was young, which made close relationships difficult.
And that is a wonderful goal - help others so they can help others.

vic caswell (aspiring-x) said...

wow! she sounds like an awesome person! i'm glad you got to know her, and i'm sure she's happy where she is now!

and yes!
service is key, and we need to be always, always remembering that!

SP Sipal said...

Hart, this is one of the most beautiful posts I've ever read. You bring this woman and her heart to life, and you sum up so much of what I believe and want in my own.

Thank you for sharing this!

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

My family is like your family. All major holidays are spent with my extended family. Aunts, uncles and cousins. On my dad's side, we occasionally spend time with his extended family (his aunts uncles and cousins) but they're not local so it's not as often.

Singing at funerals is what always makes me cry

Old Kitty said...

Awww lovely Tart!! May you always keep your family close and together and with you always!

Take care

Lisa said...

There's a lot to chew on in this post. I agree that it's easy to lose sight of the idea of service when you're not connected to the community in which you live. I know for me, coming from a background much like yours, I like the anonymity of living in a place where I didn't grow up and don't have any family or shared history with the other residents.

That's not to say I don't miss home. I do. Just not enough to move back there.

Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

In my own funeral there will probably be one person if that. I want to be cremated so there is nothing left to rot. I just don't believe in corpses and stuff like that. Return me to the earth as a pile of ash.

LTM said...

oh, I didn't know. So sorry for your loss. ((hug)) But it sounds like this was a very special person, and it's cool that her funeral was so inspiring. It is hard to get connected in a new place--as I'm discovering right now. But I think the longer we're anywhere, the more that changes. Or maybe it's just what's in the person. Who knows.

But the "scattered" portion of this really hit home for me, esp. now. It seems like when my g'rents died, our family lost touch. And for me that was after 30 years of large, vibrant family gatherings. Now we're 800+ miles away. And it is sad. So I'm all empathy over here. What to do? ((hugs))

Talli Roland said...

It's funny, the different perspective on families. My husband grew up with a massive, middle Eastern family and he loves the anonymity of life in London without them watching his every move. On the other hand, I miss have family nearby.

Hart Johnson said...

Thank you so much everyone!

I really relate to liking the anonymity. I loved living in Portland for that. But see, the key in Portland was I was driving distance from the family. I was happy to have the daily visit option off the table, but I'd really like the holiday visit back ON.

Michael-we are headed for cremation, too. That is possibly a generation thing--for me it's about mother earth, and I'd rather be spread over the ocean than locked in a box.

Nancy said...

I'm sorry you lost such a special lady in your life. I adore close family but not so close that we would live in the same house. I always thought when I got married my family would just get bigger. My husband's family didn't seem to have those same thoughts.

Carol Kilgore said...

We're a military family. When we're away, I miss family. When we're near, sometimes it's too much after a while. But the love is always there, near or far.

I'm so sorry you lost your friend. I think she was a wonderful woman.

If someone in my family said to dress alike, most of us would have worn something different.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I am grieved that you lost such a friend but comforted that her funeral was "healing" as such things can be.

Just dropped by to say thanks for having always been my friend, Roland

Elliot MacLeod-Michael said...

I loved this, thanks for sharing. What kind of creeps me out is that this woman sounds eerily like my mom, and I don't much want to think about my mom's funeral.

Only in recent years have I come to understand the legitimate selfish motive of being of service and paying it forward as you say. Paradoxically, selfish pursuits as we commonly understand them do not enrich the self in the end. They do not make us happy. The only sustainable selfish pursuit is being selfless. I can understand why it took me 28 years to get this, because it sounds like it would be bullcrap.

Trisha said...

Funerals can be either terribly sad, or uplifting and inspirational. Sometimes a combination of both, but they don't have to be tragic occasions.