Monday, August 24, 2009

Saying Goodbye My Way

We didn’t have an old fashioned southern funeral with open casket, and visitation on the night before the service. We didn’t have everyone come to my house and neighbors bring tons of food. We didn’t do it that way here in Hayesville where I live and where Barry and I lived for some of the best years of our long married life.
We discussed our desires for the final ceremony of our lives and we both, after lots of thought, decided on cremation with a memorial service to be held at a later date. My memories of my mother’s funeral and Barry’s mother’s funeral were just too painful, and we didn’t want to have our loved one go through the traditional ritual.
“Make it as easy on yourself as you can,” Barry told me, “but be sure you don’t ever have me in an open casket where people come and gawk at me.”
At my mother’s visitation at the funeral home, I walked in weighed down with sorrow and there was the open casket with a body that did not look like my mother at all. Her hair was beautifully done, just as she always wore it because her hairdresser, who loved my sweet mother, asked to fix it.
I went over and touched Mother’s hand and drew back in horror. Her skin was cold and unreal. That did not feel like my mother. That did not look like my mother and I told myself that is not my mother. She is not here.
I could not talk to the visitors who came to offer condolence to the family. I could not stop crying. The visitation, a barbaric ritual, is torture for the family and undignified for the person who lies there unable to have a say in the whole thing.
Barry and I decided we would never put each other through this. Although that is the only thing I knew for sure that he wanted, I am so glad we chose cremation and I could wait until I recovered from my own exhaustion from round the clock care giving.
In that time, I could think about what kind of memorial Barry would want and had the time to plan, with wonderful singers and friends, two services in his honor, both filled with some of his favorite music, a constant theme throughout his life. These services were celebrations of the life he lived and the kind of man he was.Those who attended actually enjoyed the services and exclaimed over how perfect they were.
No person can be justly honored in one hour. We can’t explain all the generous things he did for me and others, all the ways he impacted lives of those who knew him, the achievements of his career. Barry was not defined by his work. That was only a small part of who he was.
The service held in Georgia was attended by my family and his family and close friends from his past. Jeff eulogized Barry, and his talk was so beautiful I’ll never forget his words. This friend met Barry after we moved to North Carolina. Barry, unknowingly, impacted Jeff's life in a wonderful way.
Roger, Don and Michelle, who spoke at the service in Hayesville, also met Barry after we moved to North Carolina. Richard, long-time friend of 29 years, spoke, and still the words were about the warmth, the humor, the loving manner and gentle nature of this man.
No one is perfect and Barry certainly wasn’t. But wouldn’t we all want to be remembered as “a man who made you feel good when he entered the room.” “He was fun to hang out with, just to be around him."
Our niece, Lori, sent me a quote. “People will forget what you say, and people will forget what you do, but people will never forget how you make them feel.”


Brenda Kay Ledford said...

I've attended many funerals in my lifetime, but Barry's memorial service was one of the nicest I've ever attended. I think he would have been very pleased. Everyone spoke well, and the music was beautiful. I hope you're doing well.

Tipper said...

You already know how much I liked the service-but after reading your words-I also like how you and Barry thought about it-how you thought about the funeral. You were right.

Kathryn Magendie said...

A wonderful tribute.....

Julie said...

That sounds so beautiful, Glenda. You are so right for doing it this way. I recently attended a friend's memorial service, and though it was heartbreaking, it was also beautiful. We didn't have to endure the artificial setting of a funeral home. We shared stories, cried, and even laughed a lot (he left words for us to read). Yes, you did exactly the right thing. A wonderful tribute like the one you gave Barry is so much better.

Glenda said...

Thanks everyone for commenting. As you can see my thoughts are always on what is happening or what happened in my life in the past year. I'm glad the services were beautiful and so thankful to the people who participated.
If Barry had been there, he would have gone up to each one and shook hands and thanked them for singing and for saying the nice things they said.

Betty and Jerry Bradley gave me the most wonderful book about Losing someone you love.
I open it and read a few pages at the time. Today I read that it is not unusual to be angry at God when someone you love has died. I have to admit I'm angry. Barry was the biggest believer in prayer and so many people prayed for him, but still he died. That makes me angry. It means to me that no matter how much you beg for healing, the Higher Power that gives life can take it in a flash. Even good people have to suffer and die.
But the book says that is a part of the grief process and in time I will feel better about all this. I trust the book is right.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a beautiful piece you've written. I totally agree about the open casket and the crying. I don't do well at funerals and cry at the drop of a hat anyway. Your service for Barry was beautiful. Meakin and I both commented to ourselves as we left that we wished we had known Barry because we would have liked him.

Pat Workman said...

Glenda, I know exactly what you mean about funerals and open caskets...and such. I couldn't agree more.

Anger is natural and one of the first steps forward in the process of acceptance. We are 'only' human and we will all die no matter how much we pray and bargain.

"Trust your wound to a teacher's surgery.
Flies collect on a wound. They cover it,
those flies of your self-protecting feelings,
your love for what you think is yours.
Let a Teacher wave away the flies
and put a plaster on the wound.
Don't turn your head.
Keep looking at the bandaged place.
That's where the Light enters you.
And don't believe for a moment
that you're healing yourself."

bobmust said...


We teach by example and most often we learn by example. My parents never thought they'd in a nursing home for 2 years, dad for six.

Bravery is the hardest thing to summon at life's end, yet it's inextricably linked to dignity. Bravery is the spiritual antidote to the fragility of human life. But it seems you and Barry knew this.

Those of us who haven't faced what you have will learn from you both.

Glenda said...

Thank you, Bob, for your well written comment.I've never considered myself to be brave, but I saw bravery in Barry as he tried to protect me from knowing what I think he already knew. I was the one who had the difficulty giving up to Death. I am one who has always tried to "fix" things, but some things cannot be fixed.

I just wish we had both been better prepared for what we faced. That is why I think everyone should talk about and learn about all the possibilities available to us before we end up in a hospital under extreme conditions trying to make the right choice.
End of life issues must be discussed with doctors who don't want to say "you are dying. There is nothing we can do for you now."
But they should be discussed before the need for them to say those words.

Nancy Simpson said...

I will always remember Barry's memorial service. It was focused on him and his life and his music. It told us mourners more about who he was and brought him back to life again.

I was impressed too that the room was filled with your friends who came to let you know they understand what you're going through at this time.

I like your way of saying good bye, and I might change my mind and my plans afterall.