About twice a year I get a chance to visit my family in Florida. If my sister has a social function scheduled during my visit, she always tries to include me. A few days before my most recent trip, my sister called to tell me she and some buddies were throwing a 75th birthday party for her dear friend, Margaret, while I was there and she’d love me to come, too. This invitation took me by surprise. Margaret had died suddenly several months prior.
I didn’t know Margaret well, but between my interactions with her during visits and the tales my family members told, I knew Margaret was fun to be around, had a giving spirit, and a wicked sense of humor. And her still-grieving friends were going to gather to celebrate all three – in a way that Margaret would approve!
Everyone brought a birthday card that Margaret would get a kick out of. Several didn’t write in them or on the envelope, leaving them for the hostess to recycle (again, Margaret would approve!). There was happy chat over glasses of wine and simple appetizers. We convened to the well-appointed table and each sat at the place where our ‘goody-bag’ had our name emblazoned on it. We toasted Margaret and had a fabulous meal accompanied by zealous conversation.
After we sang Happy Birthday to Margaret, we enjoyed her birthday cake (mmmmmm, hummingbird!) and passed around her cards – including a few she had given to others over the years – amidst much laughter. It was a good night. A fun night. A way to honor Margaret that Margaret would have been delighted with.
With age comes the inevitable loss of loved ones, friends, peers. Many have traded the term ‘funeral service’ for ‘life celebration’ – they endeavor to make the memorial a time to focus on the joy of what was good about the life of their dear one, and how others were touched by them, rather than the sadness of their loss. But with the grief so raw, so new, the results are often not as uplifting as hoped for.
Through attending this gathering, I realized the benefits of having a party in honor of the departed loved one a few months later. Friends and family have had some time to process their loss and live a little with the hole in their lives the missing presence has created. But they’re not done grieving. The process of planning, gathering, honoring their friend and truly celebrating her life allows a release. To indulge in a bit of ‘psycho-babble,’ it provides some closure. It doesn’t make the hurt disappear or stop friends from missing her. But it does result in a shift from thinking about her with heavy hearts to thinking about her in a way that puts a smile on their faces.
I would say that I wished Margaret could have been there for her loving tribute, but I’m pretty sure she was!