Few people ever get to speak at their own memorial services, but my husband’s Uncle Walter did — albeit through the lips of his nephew.
Walter Stein, who died at the age of ninety-six in Margate City, New Jersey last January, was born in Tucson out in the Arizona Territory in 1910. The family later moved up to the mining town of Ray, where Walter’s father and uncles ran several businesses to supply the needs of the mining companies and residents until the mines were closed a dozen years later.
He often told people he’d had the good fortune to “live the life every boy dreams of,” and several years ago he wrote down many memories from that time, including highlights such as jumping up on the backs of donkeys and mules for impromptu rides, running water into the bathtub in the summer early to give it time to cool down enough to bath, riding hundred pound sacks of flour and potatoes down the chute into the basement of the store, and similar tales.
In keeping with Walter’s wishes that people celebrate his life rather than mourning his departure, Aunt Ruth scheduled a Celebration of Walter's Life for last Sunday, three months after his passing. Stories and laughter flowed as freely as the champagne. Most stories were recent, some as recent as the last day of his life. All were touching, humorous or both. Rather than adding to the recent memories, my husband chose to read excerpts from Walter’s own story, to the delight of the majority, who knew little about those early days.
Walter wrote his story to document the era and his own zest for life, never imagining as he wrote those words that they would be used for this purpose they served exceedingly well. Although Walter did not have this purpose in mind, many other people do. In her book, Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service, author Stephanie West Allen suggests including a brief version of your own life story as part of your pre-planned service. The book includes guidelines for doing so.
In Walter’s case, his own story was short enough that there was time to read nearly all of it. Others, like me, have several hundred pages of stories, and my survivors are likely to run screaming into the night rather than face selecting a “perfect piece.” I’m going to give serious thought to a way of trimming it down to a page or two specifically for that purpose. I want to have my own say in how I’m remembered!
What about you? Are you willing to leave it to others to recall the elements of your life that were most important to you? Why not start a list where you can jot these thoughts down as they occur to you over the next few months, then tie them together yourself? Be sure you let your family know you are doing this. Tell them where to find your list now. Leave your finished story with your will to make sure it isn't overlooked!
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal