I recently read a wonderful article on a website called Next Avenue about living tributes. The story is about folks who have chosen to have celebrations of their lives prior to their death, bringing together friends and families to share the stories and the moments so often only shared at funerals. It is well worth a read if you’re interested: https://www.nextavenue.org/tributes-before-loved-ones-die/. The individuals featured were facing terminal illnesses and wanted to have a chance to gather people most important to them and to both give them a chance to say goodbye and have a chance to say goodbye themselves.
It’s a thought provoking concept in many ways. I am sure we can all think of the many funerals and memorial services, Shiva’s and wakes that we’ve attended. So much is shared about the individual who has died, not just about their lives but also about how we felt about them. How often do we think or say that we “wish” we had said or done or been there at a particular time. How often do we long for that one last conversation?
Of course, not every death is one that is preceded by a period of illness or a knowledge that death is not so far away. Traumatic, unexpected deaths leave us all aching for those final words and connections that will never come. But when someone is reaching the end of life, whether from illness or age, is there an opportunity for us to do more? Is there an opportunity for us to celebrate life, to say the words we want to say and to do so before we are sharing those thoughts after death?
It seems to me that this is an opportunity to think differently, an opportunity to open our minds and hearts in a new way, in a way that may enrich both our lives and the lives of our older adults. What if, for example, we used a significant birthday of an older adult in our lives to do more than cake and balloons? What if we invited the family together and encouraged people to tell stories and bring photos and say the things about this person that are in their heart? What if, for family far away or a person whose health is too fragile, we asked people to send those stories and photos and we compiled them in a book, whether a simple scrapbook or with the help of an online program to create a published volume?
Regardless of someone’s physical condition, they can still respond to the feelings of love and caring in the room, to the attention and warmth that are focused in their direction. Can we honor their lives while we can still show them how much they matter? Can we seize these moments and opportunities and use them to recognize and appreciate, to share and connect? If we do so, I think the memories we create, for both our loved one and ourselves, will endure.