These past few months have, unfortunately, given me a lot of time to think about memorials. I hate the word 'funeral,' for some reason, but love the word 'memorial.' Funeral evokes the more visceral end of death: ashes, dirt, decay. But a memorial is like a world made of memories. It is a place where the best of the deceased comes to the front of everyone's mind. A funeral is a place for tears only, but a memorial is a place to laugh through the pain.
With one tragic and notable exception, the funerals of this year have been for people who have been sick for a long time. Of course it didn't always feel like a long time. Sometimes it felt as though I'd turned around and my grandmother had disappeared in a heartbeat. As though the transformation from viciously intelligent powerhouse to sweet, silly, little girl had been instantaneous. But of course it wasn't. It was a painfully gradual change that broke my family apart.
And while my grandfather's stroke was certainly a catalyst for a drastic change, it wasn't as simple as that. There were other factors that were a part of his staying in bed for some twelve years. Other factors that linger and haunt the rest of our family. It may have felt as though one day he simply couldn't find a reason within himself to get out of bed but, in reality, he must have struggled to find that reason and found it more and more difficult as time went on.
So. They were sick for a long time, and then they were gone. So what?
So a lot. So a whole lot.
What does my family do with the memories they would just as soon forget?
What do I do with twelve years of mostly sad memories making up most of what I know of my grandfather?
What does my father do with the time he cherished with his mother, even as her mind disintegrated and the rest of our family wanted so much to look away?
We remember. We come together and remember what we loved about them, and what we want to hold on in the void they have left. And, in remembering, we paint pictures for each other. We show each other parts of our grandfather, grandmother, mother, father, friend, boss, teacher that had been hidden in our psyches.
How odd that it took a funeral to bring these people fully to life. How wonderful.