Tag Archives: memorial

The Voices in My Head

My very first mentor was my Dad’s little sister, my “Auntie Omi”. She was there the day I was born. I was there the day she died.

She stepped in when I was only a zygote and wrote herself into my story. When my Dad was sent out-of-town on business, she stayed. She was the one who drove my Mom to the hospital. She was there when I was born. I could always count on her.

She was my unofficial tour guide to life. Whether it was letting me watch Grizzly Adams and Dukes of Hazzard when my parents didn’t have TV, or taking me to visit her office, she opened up a whole new world to me. She taught me my first joke and then listened patiently while I told it to her 5 million times over the next year. It was only slightly more sophisticated than the chicken crossing the road. It goes something like this:

Why did the fireman wear red suspenders?

To keep his pants up!

ha ha ha ha ha ha…

…ahhhh, good stuff!

When I was a teenager, she did something amazing and totally crazy. She adopted a child. A single women adopting an older child from the foster care system is spelled R-A-D-I-C-A-L, no matter where you come from. But it’s an awesome brand of crazy! It’s also spelled B-R-A-V-E and C-O-M-P-A-S-S-I-O-N-A-T-E.

My aunt was flesh and blood altruism. Her journey was a lot messier, more confusing and more exhausting than she (or any of us) were prepared for. My cousin was 8 when she joined our family, and it was quite a ride for both of them. Watching my aunt learning to love her daughter did me more good than the hundreds of sermons I’ve heard in my life. She wasn’t perfect, but she was faithful and committed. She was a great mom. You could always count on her.

Even as an adult she looked out for me. When we moved halfway across the country, she started sending our family care packages of totally random things she had found in thrift stores or antique markets: a set of tea towels, a weird night-light, blank video tapes, socks, a ceramic bird… Just between you, me, and the entire internet, I didn’t need any of this stuff. Sometimes I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with it. But I loved those weird packages just the same. It was her way of looking out for us. I knew she was thinking about me.

She gave the toast to the bride at my wedding, and I gave the toast to the bride at hers. I dressed all three of my daughters in fluffy blue dresses so they could precede her down the aisle. At a young fifty-something years old, she had finally met the love of her life.

It’s a beautiful story, plus now I can honestly say that “Bob’s my uncle”, which is just as funny years later as when I first said it (obviously my sense of humor hasn’t matured much since the fireman’s suspenders). My girls referred to them as “the bride and her prince”. They were so happy together and it breaks my heart that their time together was so short. Life, and especially death, just isn’t fair!

As I wrote the eulogy for her funeral 2 years ago, I realized that I had, more often than not, written it in the present tense. My aunt is brave, she has a great sense of humour… As I went back to change everything into the past tense it occurred to me – she still is. She still is all those things and more. Like her, I trust the promise that heaven is a place where weaknesses fall away and we fully become our true selves.

I’m not exactly sure what the afterlife will be like; none of us know, really. But I do know that my Aunt loved God faithfully all her life. The bible talks about us having a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11), and I can’t imagine anyone better suited to watch over us, pray for us and cheer us on. She was always taking care of us. It’s what she did best, and we miss her terribly.

My memories of my aunt may grow hazy as the years go by, but I will never forget who she was. I know I am a better person for all her support and her example. Her death was a terrible blow. But I did not lose her, not really. She is one of the voices in my head. Because our best mentors never leave us.

So here’s me, knowing someday I will be the voice in someone else’s head. I hope I have a Scottish accent.

Who are the voices in your head? What kind of things do they whisper to you?

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Honouring our Dead

I love the Haka. It is a ferocious tribal dance with chest slapping, googly eyes and aggressive tongue wagging. The uglier the face, the better. It is loud and angry. It is awesome.

During our visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center a couple of weeks ago, we had a chance to take part in a Maori ceremony. As visitors arrived in the village, both the hosts and visitors took part in an elaborate welcoming ritual. There were women singing, men grunting and posturing… the New Zealand version of “please come in, can I take your coat?”

My favourite part took place at the end: before crossing the midline to meet one another, both groups paused for a moment in complete silence. It is a time to honour the dead. It is a time to remember those who should be here but aren’t, those who came before and those who have gone ahead.

A few days later, we found ourselves at Pearl Harbor. Yet another foreign culture, when you consider both my Canadian-ness and my Anabaptist roots.

It was chilling, standing above the watery tomb of hundreds of young men. The rusty turret of the U.S.S Arizona peaks out of the water. More than a thousand died there. Most of the bodies were never recovered.

Even the girls were quiet and contemplative, though B was mostly upset because we would not let her throw her hat in the water.

This large, elaborate memorial shuttles thousands of people in and out with the efficiency of a popular tourist attraction. Most of us came to check it off the list – yep, been there, seen that.

I love to walk in the footsteps of history, to see the places where my reality was born and reborn. The BIG picture was affected here.

But it was more. This was about the small pictures too. Here lies one life. And another. And another. And another… We honour each one, each name inscribed on that wall.

I can’t help but think this is something we are missing in our culture. Not necessarily the elaborate tribal ritual or the impressive concrete ediface, but memorial woven into the fabric of everyday life.

We are studying Death and Dying in my Developmental Psychology class this week. The western theory of Grief Work promotes the idea that detachment from the deceased is a healthy final stage in the process. In fact, those who continue a relationship with those they mourn may be considered unnaturally preoccupied.

These theorists are the same who approach all grief as a pathology, rather than a normal part of life. Sure, there are those who succumb to a chronic, unhealthy grief. But recent research supports the idea that continued bonds with the dead, especially those who were a vital part of our lives, is beneficial.

The bible says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1). The souls of those who came before us. Those who have gone ahead. And they are watching.

These are the ones who built the scaffolding of our lives. If we forget the lessons they have taught us and the sacrifices they have made, we forget who we are.

I am a seed that was sown from the past and I shall never be lost.” ~ Maori saying

We do not worship our ancestors as ancient tribes once did, but we must honour them. In remembering, we are telling our own story. Not just to the world, but to ourselves and our children. And someday we will be a part of their story.

So here’s me: grand-daughter of Doris, Robert and William, niece of Naomi, mother of Noah and Simon.

How do you honour your dead? How can we make memorial part of our everyday life?


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