Honoring the Dearly Departed

I really think it’s the right thing to do, to go to the visitation, Asher texted me from school. And so my beautiful son and I drove 21 miles south to share our condolences on the loss of my son’s friend’s grandmother.

He wore a black pinstriped suit and tied his opalescent blue tie in a Krasny Hourglass knot, which his friend’s father noticed. And, once there, we learned wonderful stories of this recently departed woman, mother to five, grandmother to 13, great-grandmother to five, whose lifelong mantra focused on the importance of family togetherness, love among siblings, and open-minded acceptance.

Black poster board on easels around the room showed collages of family photographs, some yellowed from the passing of years, some recent. Family gatherings Up North. Weddings. Births. Cousins, arms slung around each other’s shoulders, silky hair shaggy and smiles big.

There were photos in churches and two from grandchildren’s bar/bat mitzvahs. Although she was Catholic, when one of her sons converted to Judaism, she told the entire family to accept and love him for his choices.

Her son told us about how warm, wonderful and loving she was in life. How she emphasized the importance of family, how the whole family celebrated when the one wandering son moved back from Chicago so that all five siblings and their families now live in metro Detroit.

Her grandson told us how they shared a love of dogs. When I remarked that we learn who we are from our grandparents more than from our parents, the son said, “Yes, well, she never told me to pick up my room.”

The job of a grandparent is to love fully and deeply , to sweep you up in their arms and show you that the world is good and right. The job of a parent is to guide you and set you on the right path, all in love, but with the firm hand of someone who wants the best for you.

We didn’t have to attend this visitation all the way Downriver on a Thursday night in winter during rush hour. It’s not a best friend to my son. But I am so grateful that he insisted.

QrHv749057For we are not fully alive if we cannot honor the end of a life. If we cannot embrace the beauty of who a person was in the years that she walked this earth, then we have not stopped to marvel at all of God’s creation. Then a life is lived in vain.

I felt proud as a mother last night, realizing that the man my son is becoming is a good person, with a huge heart, and kindness running through him. He is a person not afraid of confronting life’s challenging moments but rather faces them head-on, with compassion and love.

As we left the funeral home, he held the door for people walking in. He pulled the hanger off the rack for my coat. He held the door of the sushi restaurant where we went for dinner. He pushed the cart at the produce market where we picked up weekend groceries.

And all the while, we talked and talked, shared moments and stories. I listened to the music the played in the car and we talked about what he liked and why. We discussed family, the people we love, the stories of our pasts.

The first time I took my small children to visit my late grandfather’s grave, some people wondered why we would spend time in the cemetery. It connects us to the legacy of those who have left us, who paved the way for us, who started our stories, I said.

The peacefulness of that green landscape, and the simple stone declaring husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, were but a mere summary of all the incredible details of one man’s life, a man without whom, we couldn’t be here today, we couldn’t build for tomorrow.

Our children’s actions and choices do reflect on us parents. Yesterday, I saw in my son all that I had hoped he would be before he was even born. I wanted to be the mother who taught my children to be true to themselves, to blaze their own paths and not be afraid to not fit in.

I wanted to be the mother who taught my children to feel ok in the midst of discomfort, to embrace challenge and loss and fear and sadness. I wanted to be the mother who raised good children into great people, with compassion and love for all humanity.

I patted myself on the back last night. But even more, I pulled my son close, my arm around his broadening shoulders, and felt the warmth of his heart seep into my own.

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