Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a distant relative. The service was of the sort where people spontaneously offer stories and tributes, and I learned a lot this woman about from the collective stories told. I had no idea she was a candidate for sainthood. Those who spoke gave glowing testimony to her strength, wisdom, loving nature, helpfulness and dedication. They spoke of the powerful impact she had on their lives. One woman referred to her as a crone (a sage older woman capable of exerting powerful influence).
The tributes showed a side of her I’d occasionally glimpsed, but I never personally witnessed that public side of her. I saw the private, sit at breakfast in your bathrobe and chat over tea side of her. I saw the side of her that railed at ill health, the side of her that grieved over the fact that her sons so seldom visited, the side that despaired over the state of the world. My perception was of a melancholy person and our roles were somewhat reversed from those the others spoke of. She was their confidant, I was hers.
I chose not to speak, unsure how to celebrate that very human side of her alongside her public greatness. In the overall scheme of things, it seemed that her strengths and contributions were what deserve to be memorialized and remembered. At the moment I felt the need to respect the privacy of the moments. Perhaps I did her and the others a disservice by my failure to anchor her feet to the ground, but I think on some level they all knew this.
I could not have seen such a full picture of this woman on my own. It took a village to describe her many dimensions.
We can collect the input of the village of family members to prepare memorial or family history stories of those who came before us. We can also provide a similar sort of village in the stories of our own lives by writing of our relationships with a variety of different people.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal