As was imparted at Irene’s service: “This moment is a reminder to us to nurture (our) relationships, to be vulnerable, to bond deeply with our loved ones, and to tell them regularly how much we value and cherish them. It is a reminder for us to be generous and compassionate – to extend courtesy, goodwill and dignity to all of God’s children, no matter what their circumstances and no matter whether they are able to repay our kindness.”
“How often does this happen that they have a word for it?!” my 14-year-old daughter asked incredulously. I’d been describing my experience attending a memorial service for an ‘indigent’ person that morning. It was a first for me. I was there to support my best friend, a funeral celebrant, who was officiating the service and, as it was her first such case, she was finding it very distressing. Additionally, I felt stirred to be present in support of Irene, who died alone, not a soul having turned up to claim her body.
It was a very impactful service. My friend delicately drew attention to our shared humanity. Although we did not know her, Irene surely experienced successes and failures, heartbreaks and laughter, adventures held as treasured memories, and hopefully, parents who held her gently as a baby, and tended lovingly to her childhood scraped knees. Such an experience really brings it home that life is about our connection to each other.
A similar and profound awareness dawned on me at a holistic management workshop I attended in the 1990s. To help us grasp the bigger picture and the importance of considering quality of life when making decisions, we were asked to imagine our own funeral. What would be said about us and the way we spent our lives? It was very sobering and very enlightening to distill one’ s life down to the choices made and their impact on ourselves and others. Our lives are inextricably interconnected.
So here we are in the ‘giving’ season. How do we connect? How do we express our affection for and appreciation of one another? It is often a frenetic time with overstuffed calendars, bellies and credit card bills. George Monbiot, in his article ‘The Gift of Death’ decries our “pathologic consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.” He advises: ”Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.”
New York Times bestselling author, Mark Manson concurs: “Materialism, by and large, is a psychological trap. No matter how much you own,… buy, …(and) earn, the disease of more never goes away. Meanwhile, you’re working longer hours…(and) foregoing more and more parts of your life.” I bet Irene would have traded all her possessions for the comfort of a loving face to gaze into as she breathed her final breath.
The most important giving this season and in our lifetime, is that of ourselves – our time, our talents, our words and our love.