Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Recently, I have been musing about the changing nature of the events and celebrations that tend to dominate our personal calendars. I am not talking about the yearly calendar events—the holiday gatherings and traditions, but the special events that mark the transitions in a life. Moreover, I am talking specifically about the events during which we are not the “the star of the show”—the birthday girl or boy, the bride or groom—but the gatherings we attend to honor or celebrate the passages in the lives of others. When we are very young, our social schedule includes mostly birthday celebrations and it’s all about cake, ice cream, and maybe a clown. Then, especially if we live near extended family, we are likely to move on to a series of rather staid graduation ceremonies with all those lofty expectations. And, of course, we all come to the tumultuous, sometimes giddy (and almost always expensive) wedding stage. (I have known a number of young actors here in Los Angeles who can never pay down their credit card, because there is always another wedding “back home”.) Naturally, the wedding phase leads to the baby shower phase for the females and—depending upon the closeness of the friends—christenings, another round of birthday parties, graduations, and weddings.

I will give away my age by revealing that I am in the memorial phase of my life. You know. The phase where we switch from shouting, “hello!” to whispering, “good-bye”. Last night, set me reflecting on the diversity of tone in the far too numerous memorials I have attended in the last few years. Perhaps because I live in a community that is home to a plethora of creative people, most of whom are quite comfortable taking center stage and putting their individual stamp on almost any occasion, no two memorials are the same. Each is intensely personal, reflecting the personality of the deceased as well as those who have crafted the memorial and, to some degree, those in attendance. Each holds a special place in my heart and mind and I am grateful to those who made those events possible.

Last night’s memorial was a fitting testament to a life well-lived. The event honored an accomplished musician. Thus, not surprisingly, the “hall” was filled with musical talent. The talent was generously shared, and through the healing power of music the tears got all jumbled with joy and love. The evening was a perfect final note to what had been a lovely song.

The catharsis of saying goodbye and celebrating someone’s life seems, to me, a crucial stage in what turns out to be a never quite ending grieving process. (I can’t say I buy the theory “that time heals all wounds”. For me, time allows for the formation of calluses and scabs over the bruises and wounds. Nevertheless, it takes only an unexpected reminder of the loss to rip off the callous or scab and all that pain comes flooding back. This may very well be a flaw in my own character rather than a truism. Still, it is my experience.) But, beyond the catharsis, the memorials have been instructive. They remind me that our time here is brief. Then, when we are gone, there will be others left behind, who will remember us—with our without affection. So, perhaps we should occasionally give some thought to how we will be remembered. The stories that I hear consistently shared at these life-celebrations are a sober reminder of what counts. Without fail, the moments most often recalled with affection and gratitude are little moments. Moments of small kindnesses or personal humor in awkward situations. It’s so tempting to spend our time wondering how our contributions to “the world” will be perceived, while those in our immediate lives are starved for those special little moments they will always remember. Is it too gruesome to confess that I have decided to work a bit more on my memorial?


  1. Anita, what a beautiful post. For whatever reason, I don't think that I fear death. I like to go for the gusto, here in life, and try to forgive and forget as quickly as possible. I don't want to be left standing at the graveside of a friend 'holding a grudge'.

    As far as I know, we only get one trip through, but that's as far as I know. Sometimes, get those feelings of deja vu, so maybe those are past life events. :-)

    Regarding the pain, at least for me, I think that it goes away. I have lost both of my parents, my mother in 1986, my father in 1995. The hurt is gone and only the fond memories remain.

    As I plan my next trip, which is going to be to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, I know that I'm taking a nice slice out of that pie called life.

    When I do die, and I will, I want there to be a great party and a celebration. After all, no more bills, taxes, worries, or whatever. Talk about total freedom! :-) I would like people to remember me most for my silliness and humorous approach to life. If they don't remember me, then no skin off of my back ... I'll be dead! ;-)

  2. Paul,thank you for sharing your thoughts. Of course you are right that with the passing of time, after a loss, we begin to focus more on fond memories and those memories displace much of the pain. And,you are so right that if no one bothers to throw a party, those of us who have moved on won't know the differnce. For some people, that may be best. Seriously, I have a strong feeling that your live and let live, forgive and forget philosophy, along with your obvious generosity in mentoring, will produce a gigantic bash. I imagine a great crowd celebrating a good spirit. At any rate, just as it's a shame to not value each and every moement since there are no guarantees of another, it's an equal shame to dwell on the invevitable ending of our time here. I know you are committed to finding balance and that is part of this, isn't it?

  3. Well, Anita, you nailed it. Yes, I'm a "Live and let live" kind of guy. I am for, at most times, instant forgiveness and extremely short memory with regards to past wrongs. I don't always succeed, but it is a journey.

    When I start to hold a grudge, the thought is usually, what if I never get a chance renew my relationship with that person, so I try to drop it immediately. Most times, this is a huge hit to the ego, but well worth the effort.

    Also, I'm trying to enjoy life even more. I just turned 46, not yet retired, but the time is 'now' to do what I want and to have a good time, not tomorrow.

    I read the post again and liked it even more. I really like the stages of life that you've outlined.

  4. I am learning to slow down a bit. I have always felt there weren't enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do and still get done the things that are essential. I am examining priorities. Not surprisingly, I have fallen off the wagon during the last several weeks, but the committment remains to savor life more. Our travel last year was part of my new outlook. It was a good start.

    I so appreciate your comments on my post. Thanks for dropping by and offering encouragement to stay with this.


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