No Funeral, No Obit

I was shocked when two friends told me that, after they die, they didn’t want a funeral or an obituary. I’ve since come to realize that this is part of a nationwide trend (see “Honoring the Wishes of Those Who Didn’t Want a Funeral,” in Next Avenue), although I’m still not clear why.

Growing up, funerals were a part of my family’s life. They weren’t just a ritual of mourning but a way of maintaining and even strengthening the fabric of our family and community. I still vividly remember my grandparents’ funerals. They were preceded by two nights of wakes, where friends and family members showed up at the church to view the body and to offer comfort to the family.

On the day of the funeral, we would drive past my grandparents’ home, as a final farewell to the place they spent most of their lives, before proceeding to the church, where hundreds of people—family members, coworkers, neighbors, friends, fellow church members—would be lined up in the pews. The priest, who knew my grandparents and family well, would give a long eulogy, after which we would proceed to the cemetery and the family plot, marked by a large granite stone.  

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Eternal Youth

You should never stay in the same town where you went to college. While you get older, the university population stays the same age. A new generation supplants the older one, but the university students remain young.

I was on campus recently to see a play and took the time to walk around the place where, some 50 years ago, I was a student, where I studied English literature and learned how to think critically, protested the Vietnam War and demonstrated for women’s and civil rights, and started my journalism career working for the campus newspaper.

While most of the campus hasn’t changed physically, it felt different; for one, students young enough to be my grandchildren went by on skateboards. But it wasn’t the campus—with its stately stone buildings and ancient trees—that had changed but me. In the last part of my life, I am a different person and view the world through different lenses than when I was in my 20s. Was I feeling sad because of my lost youth? Would I like to go back to those years where life was charged with youthful energy and promise, and I had my whole life in front of me?

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Love Ya

The first time I heard this phrase casually used, I was a bit shocked. I grew up in the 1950s when people didn’t express affection, unless it was in the swoon of romantic love, much less using “Love ya” as a good-bye greeting.

Watching a movie recently, I was struck by how a mother and uncle constantly reminded their son and nephew, respectively, that they loved him. That wasn’t in the vocabulary of my parents—or grandparents or aunts or uncles. They belonged to a past generation that thought if you spared the rod you would spoil the child. It wasn’t just that a good spanking was considered a necessary part of raising an obedient child, but there was a sense that too much praise would give children a big head, and there was nothing worse than that. Children weren’t supposed to be coddled. In fact, my grandparents grew up at a time when child labor was still allowed. And people had large families because they needed the free labor on farms.  

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