When I had to plan the memorial service for William it was really the last thing in the world I wanted or needed. I hope I’m not the only wife who has felt that way, and I suspect I’m not. I felt empty, lost, confused, terrified and certainly not ready for public. I wanted to transport myself back in time at least ten years. I didn’t want anyone around me who was liable to say something comforting like “He’s better off” or “God needed him more” or any of a hundred other trite and truthless statements by people who feel the need to say something when they have no idea what to say to make you or themselves feel better. Everyone told me I needed this memorial. I didn’t. Everyone told me it would be good for me. It wasn’t. A memorial did not solve a damned thing for me. It was simply one more thing I needed to get to the end of to appease others. Kind of like sitting for two hours at the local city offices to get all the death and marriage certificates everyone was demanding, or sitting for hours at the dining table filling out forms and categorizing bills for medical expenses that started arriving the day after he died. What I did know, was that William would have absolutely hated a traditional, wear your best clothes, lots of flower arrangements, solemn service with his physical remnants on display.
Several years ago, my best friend was telling me about a memorial gathering she was helping to put together for a friend of hers. Their plan was a sort of This is My Life for the deceased and was so much more meaningful than a formal service that has less to do with remembering and honoring the life that was, and more to do with just a clean and shiny ceremony. I don’t want anyone standing up to talk about me that hasn’t at least taken me out to eat or gotten tipsy in the pool with me and I knew William wouldn’t either. So, the first thing I did on Billiam’s To-Do List, was to invite everyone over for a party catered by his favorite BBQ restaurant.
I asked his family and friends to bring pictures and to write down their best memories and funniest stories about their experiences with William. Here at the house, my best friend and I washed several hundred of the models he’d built and placed them around the house on display, printed out funny Williamesque quotes from his Facebook page, had pictures printed, and delegated things like drinks, napkins, seating and tables to family and friends who were desperate to have something to do other than wring their hands in helpless sorrow. Because the gathering would be in our backyard that William had planted so beautifully, there was no need for flowers so we asked people to please make a donation to one of his favorite organizations. We plastered the front door, the walls, cabinet doors, refrigerator, interior doors and his desk with the photos, and all of the printed quotes and stories. When we were done, everywhere we looked there was William. We had a computer running a slideshow of photos of his happy faced antics on the table. His ashes were where he spent much of his quality alone time, in his chair at his model building and painting table in his office. His lovable spirit was everywhere.
We had guests enter at the front door where we had posted his favorite Star Trek meme, a note explaining that they were here to get to know the multi-faceted man he was, to laugh, and to share their own fun experiences. There was also a very important note regarding what not to say and what it was safe to say to the widow. This gave people a safe guideline to help them find the right things to say and to help me through a terrible day without feeling the need to bite anyone on the ankles. Guests aren’t going to know what to say, so give them a list. When people come up to you and fumble around with “I’m so sorry”, “He’s out of pain” and other platitudes, you’re going to tune them out and only remember about 10% of what they say at the memorial service for the love of your life. On the other hand, if all you hear is “The food is great!”, “The yard looks Great!” “No wonder he liked it out here so much!” and “His tractor really IS as ‘groovy’ as he said” then you’ll remember the experience more fondly.
When people leave and tell you that when they pass on, they want this exact type of memorial, you know it was right. People breathed easier being able to laugh, without the pressure of what to say, they truly got to know, appreciate and honor William and I was just able to stay out of everyone’s way and allow them the closure they hoped to find.