Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Memorials Should Be a Celebration of Life

Patricia Maselli died on July 4 at the age of 53, leaving behind two adult children and 10 grandchildren. One of the things I appreciated hearing at her memorial yesterday was how much she was loved by her family. They talked about her living life to the fullest. “Spontaneous adventures” were mentioned by several people. One after another came up and shared funny stories about her, including several about her penchant for fast cars and fishing.

I laughed quietly when her son told a story about her meeting her dad as a teenager by racing and beating him on the streets of Fremont. I helped her purchase a car at an auction a few years ago, and she bought the one car I didn’t think she should buy. It was a cute, little supped-up Acura Integra that looked like a hot-rodder. Patricia lost me at the first light. Sadly for her, a few minutes later, I found her, pulled over on the freeway, her new purchase steaming from under the hood because of overheating.

Now it made sense why she wanted a fast car.

I knew Patricia from our serving together in Focus Singles Ministry in Livermore,California, for several years. I helped her move to her last residence a few years ago. The Patricia I knew lived a life full of life struggles and far too much physical pain. I did not know her as well as I thought.

Several people, including her pastor of several years at a church in nearby Fremont, spoke of Patricia’s boundless faith. It had the same energy she had for life. She lived her faith by serving others. With Focus, whatever needed done, Patricia would jump into with zeal. Like most single adults, she liked getting gussied up for our various events and kicking up her heals a little. She also served in Cornerstone’s women’s ministry.

After she died, I volunteered to do the food for her service. Memorials and funerals are particularly hard for single adults because there is no spouse to plan everything. In Patricia’s case, her children and extended family were around to help out where possible, but family shouldn't slave away on such a day.

I don’t have any experience in providing food for memorials. At my dad’s memorial five years ago, several women from his church provided a simple lunch, sort of a faux potluck. Having food around allows friends and family to mingle and reminisce after the service for a while. People need to process death by sharing stories with others. It’s part of the healing with need. How did this person’s life impact us, good or bad?

In biblical times, funerals lasted for several days, and food was an essential element of the gathering. When people died, their lives were celebrated. Food brings people together at a time when sharing is important to our psyches. Without the food, too many people would just walk out the door and put that person’s life behind them. God wants us to remember them, because that’s what grieving means. Funerals and memorials should bring tears and laughter together. If it’s just one or the other, something is missing.

Yesterday was a learning process for me on two accounts. I learned that there was more to Patricia’s life than what I knew, and I learned how to prepare food for 100 people who want to keep talking about a friend or family member’s life. Here are a few thoughts:

  • If money is an object, ask friends and family members to prepare a few dishes, potluck style. Fill an igloo full of ice and make lemonade. Set up a coffee pot and have on hand the various condiments. Use decaf for such events because no one needs more caffeine in the afternoon. Mini-waters were on hand.
  • Finger foods are an essential part of a memorial, because people want to walk around and talk with friends and family members. Think appetizers, vegetables, fruit, a few proteins, cheese and crackers and a multiple dessert items.
  • For $300, you can provide a fine spread for mourners that can bridge lunch and dinner. I had three helpers get the food and drinks ready. One did the drinks, two helped me prepare food and one helped me clean up. We spent three hours prepping and one hour cleaning up.
  • Here are a few items we did yesterday: cheese, salami and crackers; artichoke dip; nuts; various veggies with Ranch dressing; cold shrimp and spicy dip; finger sandwiches made with turkey and cheese; grapes; brownies and biscotti.

The best part was when things started winding down. We asked the family if we could send the left-over food with them, and they were elated. They were all going to one of their houses to continue reminiscing. When they got there, the abundance of food we gave them took the worry of cooking away from them for the evening. That gave them all more time to laugh and cry together as they remembered Patricia Maselli, who was laughing and crying along with them … from heaven above.

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