We drove up this morning, unusually for a Sunday, from Laguna Beach to Los Angeles for a family gathering to mark the recent death Ellie’s Aunt Sylvia, of one of our elders—one of the last, be it said, since we are rapidly becoming them ourselves. We have seen our elders, to paraphrase that famous, overused saying, and they are us.
The memorial was a beautiful and moving moment. I suspect that many of us have experienced those events where, instead of a funeral, we are invited to “celebrate the life” of the recently departed. In all the merriment of getting together and “remembering the good things,” the fact of death is frequently—pardon the phrase—passed over, perhaps because that is the hard part, the part we don’t much want to look at.
Thanks to the thoughtful preparations of Ellie’s cousins, Aunt Sylvia’s memorial certainly gave us the opportunity to remember her, and to celebrate the fact that she had touched so many lives. But it was also appropriately serious and reflective.
There was a rabbi on hand to lead the proceedings, which were called to order promptly and captured everyone’s attention. The rabbi spoke quietly and with appropriate gravity about the inevitable cycle of life and death—by wonderful happenstance, Sylvia’s great-granddaughter had arrived in this world only hours before her own departure, and was on hand to contrast her lovely presence with Sylvia’s poignant absence.
The rabbi then read a couple of beautiful, familiar passages from Ecclesiastes and the Psalms (“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”) before making space for family members and friends to add their own words of remembrance, which they did with loving grace and humor; and the memorial part of the event ended with the recitation of the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer of mourning.
Then, only after this moving and respectful tribute to the person we had come to honor, there was food and drink and conversation, and catching up with those we had not seen for too long a time, and promises to remain in better touch than in the past. All in all, it was a fitting farewell, one that did not too readily dispense with the sadness but also celebrated the joy of a life lived long and well. We should all wish for so warm a tribute, once we have followed Sylvia on that journey into the unknown that awaits us after this body in which we are given to spend our human lives gives out.