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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

On Memorium and Reflection

In the past 4 months I have lost two members of my family. My great grandfather was 98 years old, his health waning and his death sad but anticipated. My mother’s step-mother was in her late 60s, had gone in for shoulder surgery and suffered a heart attack while still in the hospital; needless to say, her death came as much more of a shock. What brings me to write about these deaths is the highly contrasting ways in which they were memorialized and the effect the services had on family members.

My great grandfather was a longtime and devout member of a Dutch Reform Protestant Church in the small desert town of Redlands, CA. For those who are unfamiliar with this branch of Christianity, it is a stern sect which, in spite of younger and borderline charismatic preachers, has a hell-fire and brimstone mentality. We congregated first at the cemetery, chairs placed in rows before a plain casket, no flowers present. The church in which we gathered next was equally as plain, again no flowers, only a single framed photo of the deceased decorating the pulpit. Granted, he was a simple man whose life was made simpler in his old age, but the services that preceded and followed his burial did nothing to highlight the man he had been. The minister, a slender, middle aged man emphasized instead the body as a mere vessel, the complete absence of my great grandfather from this earth for eternity followed by what seemed to be the most depressing and least comforting passages of the bible. While this method seemed acceptable to those members of our family who attended this church, my immediate (and non-church going though not entirely unreligious) family left the service feeling nothing but bored and disappointed by the lack of emotion and shared experiences.

My mother’s step-mother had been a nurse and caretaker for the elderly for the majority of her life, a wonderful cook, and a charismatic wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and sister. The room in the funeral home in which her service was held was bright, built of light wood and large windows, and featured a focal point of several exotic floral bouquets surrounding the cherry wood box that contained her ashes. In either corner of the ceiling a flat screen TV ran a slideshow of happy moments, a pink background brightening the mood further. The Baptist minister, a heavy set, jovial man spoke about the importance of remembering Patricia Karsemeyer, cherishing her memory and having the faith to believe that the best parts of her will be in two places forever: in our hearts and in heaven. Members of the family, young and old, stood at the pulpit, some teary eyed, some merely reflective, all smiling at some point, to share their memories and the ways in which Pat’s life had affected their own. Despite having never been close to her, I was moved by the reminiscing and mourning of those who had felt a greater loss.

I realize the mourning process is unique to everyone, we all deal with death differently; my family has a tendency to grasp at humor in even the most inappropriate situations. And though my great grandfather’s funeral was odd enough to give us ample material to pick on, it was unfulfilling to be unable to share our loss and our memories with those who came to mourn with us. There was no sense of community, no binding personal experience as there had been with Pat’s heartfelt memorial.

Upon both these recent losses, my step-father, a typically unreligious man despite his Catholic upbringing, has made it a point to emphasize the importance of faith and family not only in getting through the tough times such as death but also in carrying on one’s legacy. Who we are as people and the influence we have on others is perhaps best reflected in our familial relationships, in the ways we impact those who know our faults, for these are the relationships that define us as we grow from children to adults and will ultimately determine how we interact with others. I think at some point, everyone wonders how many will mourn their death and how much their passing will impact others. Funerals, oddly much like birthdays, appear to me a time of reflection not only on the life of those who have passed but on my own life as well. I don’t mean to say that the number of people who attend a funeral determine the quality and significance of a person’s life, but there is something to be said about a person having lived so fully that even their death could fill a room and provide a vast community with which to mourn.

I encourage us all to take a moment in remembrance of those we have loved and lost and who have made an influence on our lives in life and in death and to go forth in our own lives to be people worthy of praise even after we have passed ourselves.

--Heather Maupin


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