Vanessa, Vernon’s only sister, has been in town since Thursday, thrown right into the loving chaos of friendships and planning our event. Of course everyone wants to meet “Vernon’s sister.” It’s been very special time with her, and I’m sure she can see a lot of her teenaged brother in his son. Vernon’s parents were unable to make it out due to health issues.
Last night, my dad gathered the family around for a time of personal sharing after dinner. This kind of thing happens in our family on the rare times we can together. I imagine it’s a little overwhelming for newcomers, but Vernon always appreciated that time, despite English Reserve. I remember the first time he got thrown into the thick of it—my big loud family; we had just started dating. Anyway, everyone was asked to share a little something about Vernon last night. It was lovely to hear what they had to say, how they remembered him. I hope it was nice for Vanessa to hear these things too.
(Vanessa found Vernon’s old British Rail card, circa 1987. He would have been 20. Look at that baby face!)
This is what happens when someone dies. They become larger than life. Or maybe their whole life really was that large, but since each person has their own relationship to the person, we could only see them in limited dimensions, through our own lens of experience, not anyone else’s. It’s as if a life blooms all over again after death, right in front of the eyes of the living. Like a massive chrysanthemum bloom, it opens up from the center of the person who has passed, each curling petal a different life, a different story reflected in the memory of each person who every cared about him. Maybe that’s another reason these flowers are often seen at funerals and gravesides.
The truth is, I only knew him for a 11 years of his life. I married him inside the next year, when he was almost 40 and I had just turned 35. So even though I’m the one planning his memorial services, the one narrating the post-injury Vernon’s story over the past two years on this blog, it’s only a part of his life I can represent, that I can even relate with. I think it was a very special part, but I only had him for 1/5 of his entire life. It’s been wonderful to hear stories from his old class mates and colleagues, sometimes people I had never even heard about before. And so he blooms a little more.
(Vernon and other family members, listening to various stories about my grandfather at his own memorial a few years ago.)
Like the scene in the wonderful film Waking Ned Devine, I like to imagine the person being honored by the words of his friends is sitting in the front row of his own funeral, hearing things that perhaps he never heard before. If we were each in the habit of honoring each other with our words while they were still with us, I imagine we would go through life feeling like more complete versions of ourselves….and we’d see others like that too. Here’s a quote from the film. I invite you to fill in the blanks with the name of a dear living friend of your own.
“______ was my great friend. But I don’t ever remember telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said, maybe say a few things yourself. ______ and I grew old together. But at times, when we laughed, we grew young. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”
“Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” —1 Corinthians 13:12