Monday, August 8, 2011

You Never Really Know Someone Until Their Funeral

This past weekend were the memorial services for my grandfather that recently passed away. No one really loves a funeral, but I believe in their importance for closure. Humans need to say goodbye physcially and emotionally, and this is the system we have set up to meet that need. We come together as a collective people to send a person's spirit on to the great beyond. 

As I sat listening to the wonderful things people were saying about my Pawpaw, I had a realization (imagine me sitting in the rec room of a retirement village with a light bulb over my head). Each person that spoke told a little story or talked about how Red touched their lives. One man told about how proud they both were to serve in the Navy. Another man talked about his sense of humor and his generosity. Another about their shared love of sailboats. Each anecdote was like a single brush stroke and when the weekend was over, I had a whole new painting in my head of my grandfather.  There was something about hearing what he meant to each person that showed his complexity and that he was so much more than the way I remember him. When I think of him, I think of my no-nonsense Pawpaw who called me 'Pal' and said what he thought to anyone and everyone. I loved him, but I can honestly say there was so much I never knew about him. I am happy to say that now I know a great deal more. 

We can never really know a person in every facet of their life, no matter how close we are to them. We are different things for different people. A son, a father, a grandfather, a coworker, a parishoner, a friend, a soldier, a husband, a sailor. Pawpaw was all of these things. Because I only ever saw him as my grandfather, I never put any thought into what he was to others. People wrote beautiful poems about him. For most that knew him, poetry would not be your first thought. Jokes or funny stories maybe, but poetry? For two people who met him, he inspired just that. They wrote tributes that were personal and beautiful. They spoke to his true self and what he meant to others around him. When my Dad and his siblings spoke about their father, they talked about a father who ruled with an iron fist but loved them enough to teach them wonderful life lessons. A man who taught them the value of hard work, love of family, and the importance of laughter. 

I just came away from what could have been a terribly sad weekend. While I certainly shed my fair share of tears over the last 48 hours, it was a really beautiful time of family and friends bonding over our shared love of a special guy. It was a chance for all of us to share what we loved, and learn a little more about him. I thank each person who participated in completing my mental portrait of my grandfather. (I didn't share for fear of public squawling.) Do the people in your life a favor and talk about those who have passed away. Tell stories and share memories. Let each other see the picture you have so everyone can have a more complete understanding of who their loved one was. It may help make saying goodbye a little easier. I know it has for me. 


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