Monday, January 26, 2009

Pulling Out the Stops

I've recently experienced my most elaborate memorial service ever (ever is a loooong time). This, much to the design of the bereaved family who had discussed at length, in advance, how they wanted to honor Dad, 46, who had been in a cancer battle for a year. At his request, he was cremated.

The number of people who would attend his funeral immediately cancelled the option of having the service in a funeral home, so they opted for the grand ballroom of the country club. Entering the room, the dance floor had luxurious seating set-up in theatre style. The perimeter of the room had memory stations with food that complimented that part of his life and there were two active barkeeps at either end of the room, serving beer, wine and soda.

Station#1 Childhood- picture boards and memorabilia displayed on the table, accompanied by macaroni and cheese (the favorite of every American kid), served in martini glasses and a fixin's bar, where you could add crumbled bacon, roasted veggies, etc.

Station #2 Hockey- He was an ice hockey referee. There was a vase of pucks, some attire, rule books and photos, along with cheeseburgers, weenie wraps and fixings- the fare at the rink.

Station #3 All Other Sports- Displaying his love of football, baseball, skiing, swimming and poker; along with hoagie wraps (cold cuts, lettuce and tomato, wrapped in a tortilla) and a nacho station with fixings. Everything you would find at a tournament.

Station #4 The Working Man- Displaying his awards and plaques, along with photos of conferences at which he spoke. This being the mainstay of the family, the meat was served at this station. Roast beef and turkey was hand-carved to place on snowflake rolls, with an assortment of condiments, of course.

Station #5 The Marriage-Memory boards and souvenirs of romantic vacations, along with Jamaican Rum Cake, from their wedding day at Montego Bay.

Station #6 The Family Man-A loving display of all of the activities with his 5 children. Because they were the sweet spot of his life, this was the dessert table, loaded with petit fours.

The Celebration itself was his life story. After I told a portion, a person from that timeframe added a personal embellishment. I had a friend from 2nd grade, a high school buddy, someone who hung around with him early in his marriage, a business colleague, a business standards official, a hockey referee, a hockey council official, a goalie who learned life lessons from him, 2 cousins, a step-son, a sister, 2 daughters and the wife. That's right; a total of 16 speakers. I was the frosting that stacked the layers of this incredible life. It lasted 2 hours and had no fluff added in. With an hour reception before and after, this was as momentous and elaborate as many weddings. As folks left, they took with them prayer cards, wildflower seed hearts, tree seedlings to plant, memorial photo brochures and hockey pucks embellished with his photo, name and dates.

There is certainly no doubt he was loved. Friends traveled cross-country to be in this moment. We truly celebrated someone who was larger than life in a fashion that was as extraordinary as the man himself.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ed, Harvey and the Storeroom Clubhouse

I've spent quite a bit of time lately thinking about Ed. His story is a life lesson to us all.
Ed was my Dad's best friend. They were an odd duo. Ed owned the local liquor store and Dad, a teetotaler, the local funeral home. They would visit in the back storage room of the liquor store over a couple of Dr. Peppers and solve the world's problems. It had to be a great escape for Dad, like a clubhouse he could slip away to and be relieved from the stressors of the day. These are the days of no cell phones; not even a pager; and who's going to think of tracking down Harvey in a liquor store? For Ed, it had to be a welcome break from the quick "How ya doin'?" exchanges of customer traffic.
On Wednesdays, they had lunch together at the Rotary Club meetings and they crossed paths regularly as they worked on advertising campaigns for their businesses and local elections. Dad was a town coucilman and Ed was a great resource for what the town was thinking.
It was at a Rotary dinner-dance that Ed approached Dad at tableside, with a bellyful of joy as he exclaimed, "What a great party!" With that, he fell to the floor and died of a heart attack.
Dad took care of Ed. No doubt it was an emotional time for him; he loved the man. Having anyone else care for him though, would have been out of the question. It was an honor; a sacred duty. To have a stranger care for him, would have been more painful to Dad's broken heart.
The day of his wake the whole town showed up. The funeral home was flooded with a who's who of businessmen, townsfolk and winos. Everyone wandered around in shock, as they expressed what a wonderful guy Ed was.
The irony came as I manned the front sidewalk with Dad. The number of people, though not surprising, actually caused Dad to well-up with emotion as he explained, "Ed was one of the loneliest people in town. He was often sad and told me he didn't think he had any friends. Would you look at this crowd! He never knew."
Take a moment and look around you. Take time to offer a kind word; an encouragement. It may be a starving person who needs their heart fed. Don't wait until the eulogy to express your admiration, commitment or gratitude. Celebrate someone today.