Don’t Say Goodbye

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by DeeDee Corbitt Sauter

I can’t remember if I attended any funerals as a child, but I seriously doubt it. I know my parents did. When it was required, they classic donned black apparel, spoke in hushed tones, whispered compliments about the deceased, and reached out to the surviving family members. It was not appropriate for children to physically say goodbye to the recently departed.

Instead, the only social obligation my sister and I shared was the enthusiastic participation in neighborhood birthday parties. Balloons, cake colored wrapping paper, ice cream and games vied for our attention on the calendar.

Celebrations and recognitions are always high on the list of gift-giving activities. Food and loud music dominate the teen years while fine clothing and one-upmanship are popular at graduations, weddings, baptisms and family reunions. We celebrate the passage of life every chance we get.

As far as I know, no one is immortal. Eventually, we have to start thinking about our humanity and how it will all come to an end. Unfortunately, I recently had to attend a funeral. The mother of my friend died far too young. The first question most people ask when hearing about a death is “How? How did she die? Was it expected?” There is always hope that the answer is one we can accept. Maybe something expected, perhaps an illness that is
gender specific or age-related or even the result of bad lifestyle choices. But she is gone.

I have attended many funerals. Young and old, illness and accident. They carry the same intense theme. Most people
say they want their funerals to be a celebration, but the overwhelming sadness colors transforms festivities into more
of a melancholy gathering.

Until this last funeral, during which I had an epiphany. When I die, I want to be just like her.

This was a true and legitimate celebration. There were a few tears and snuffles, but I have never felt uplifted while discussing the early demise of someone I loved. But, somehow she knew how hard it would be to stay cheery, so she planned the event, I mean she planned the whole thing. While spellbound by the bagpipes, captivated by the singers, moved by the poetry recite and mesmerized by the liturgical dancer, I saw how absolutely everyone adored and respected this woman.

She knew she was dying, and that it would be earlier than she wanted. But even if it was early, it was still inevitable. So, she talked to her friends and decided who would speak, who would perform, who would help throw that last party. She not only said she wanted a party, she took the cost, planning and responsibility out the hands of those left behind and made sure this was her final gift. Prior to the services, she actually planned a social hour. Coffee, tea, water, snacks and cheese and crackers. People actually mingled and visited with each other. There were no tears. They talked to each other and caught up friendships were rekindled and family members hugged and laughed. She actually planned a real party at her funeral. It. Was. Amazing.

Then came the normally solemn ceremony of praising the departed, but how can sadness be the prevailing mood
while watching a gorgeous, lithe dancer waving her silken handkerchiefs, bending and turning in ways that I know would break every bone in my inflexible body?

I am not sure in what act the epiphany occurred, but I did start to understand what she had awakened in me and helped me understand the importance of what she had done.

Few of our traditional rites of passage gatherings actually celebrate our accomplishments. Birthday parties mark another year of simply staying alive in a world with few natural threats.

While graduation from high school or college recognize the accomplishments of hard work, it is only a snapshot of a relatively short time frame. Marriages celebrate the moment a union is legal and we rejoice in their potential.

She showed us that a funeral can be the final and most accurate celebration of an amazing life regardless of the length. Everyone touches someone else. Everyone makes a difference and when they are gone, those remaining need that reminder and need that support from the rest of the community.

I have already wasted money on a wedding and a couple of other parties. But, I hope my friends mother’s way of dealing with her death becomes the standard. I walked away grateful that I had known her, grateful I could spend time with her family, grateful I was part of her life. She knew how important this final celebration would be and her family was truly able to celebrate her life.

Even in death she was amazing. Thank you, Shirley.

DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Northern Virginia.

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