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Guilt. Activism. Boundaries, and UU memorial.

Posted by Shannon Vyff , 14 September 2008 · 1,108 views

Today was Marianne's memorial, I took my three children. They did not like having to sit through two and a half hours of sadness, with nary a book, electronic gadget or toy in hand. I several times had to remind, or cajole them to sit still, or not make as much noise with their foot (it is a church sanctuary after all, designed for acoustics). There were no breaks, at one point I walked them out to look at pictures in the lobby and sign the memorial book about Marianne, with what we remembered about her.

The minister talks first he then monitors all the speaking until the end. The family speaks first, then anyone, anyone at all that is there. One after another, men and women would peruse the crowd, make sure no one else was standing up to walk to the podium before they worked up the courage to. Some had prepared speeches, with stories of Marianne, and quotes from famous philosophers, activists, monks, religious figures.... some just spoke about Marianne, what they remembered from knowing her while they were growing up (she raised three boys as a single mother, and took a fourth into her home that was in need), or what they admired about her.

The entire process is amazing, very profound, many tears. My own children question why anyone would come to a memorial (my son in particular says it just makes you more sad, and did note that after I spoke, I was nearly crying the entire time) --I say because all feel the loss so strongly, it makes them feel better to hear the stories from others--they learn about the person.

I learned much about Marianne that I did not know, she touched my life deeply before and even more today, when I spoke I told the story of how I met her the first time. I was at church in the evening while my children were attending a event that I was not leading, I went into a room in order to get some reading done. In that room I found a woman I'd seen around at church, old, bent over and using a cane, slowly working at moving chairs around. I asked if the room was taken, inquiring as to whether or not there would be a class I could join. She said that it would not be in use for an hour and a half, she was there setting up for a professor from the University of Texas who was coming to speak about world economics. I asked her if she needed help. She said no. I helped anyway. She with her Parkinson's had planned to do in one and a half hours what a healthy person could easily do in 5 minutes.

In a few minutes I was done arranging the chairs in a circle as she wanted, then she gave me the hand outs for the class and we proceeded to talk world economics for the next 45 minutes. She had gone over the visiting professor's book, and a multitude of current events--I learned a lot, and was grateful as I'd not be able to attend the class since my children would need to be in bed for the next day.... for the rest of the time till my kids were out, we talked parenting. I heard of how hers were grown (this always is intriguing to a parent with young ones) she made me feel like I was doing a great job even though I went over problems I was having, with her. That is how Marianne was, she found the best in other people, she loved others--and spent her time helping to teach them.

Her last minutes in the hospital were spent researching the operation she was to have, so she could talk with the doctors on their level. She had no fear. I had talked cryonics with her--but to the crowd of 100 today, I did not mention that, nor any of my life extension advocacy... I had talked with her about cryonics and she had been accepting, thinking it might work--but as she was not interested for herself, I never pressure anyone to sign up, and I'd not mention cryonics to the crow of people there grieving this amazing woman who worked for universal health care here in the US, who worked for women's rights all her life, who selflessly gave of her time to our church. Only one of her sons attended today, and he had not seen her in 4 years-- he said it was his loss, he thanked those in attendance for coming, he was surprised that so many came--he really did not know his mom. He even thanked me for speaking afterwards at the reception and said it was great to hear such a young person speak (he was in his 40's and probably had no idea I was 33).

I can not convey the depth of the memorial, but is was powerful. The minister at the end waits three silent minutes to see if any of the crowd will come to the microphone --then he steps forth and asks if anyone else would like to speak. He said in 22 years of doing memorials he has never heard anyone say what a nice house, or car a person had--they say what they loved about them, the important things, how they made a difference, how they write their own eulogy in the hearts of others... then we all had a gourmet buffet that would have fed 200, and left--still sad, but some what bettered by the day. My children too.

I think I was right in never brining up my own activism, the day was about her--not "teaching others". I know I can't have guilt over everyone that dies, that they did not sign up for cryonics--it may not even work of course, but if it does, I'll honor their memory. I wish more were willing to try it, of course. But today was not a day to talk about Methuselah to the people present....just to thank her family for coming, to feel good that they were so surprised that Marianne was so loved, and so active. (she did more than some young people I know, her determination was an inspiration) I loved giving my own children the time to thing of their own mortality and how they want to be remembered. Still, most of all though, I'll miss Marianne. I'm glad I was there, it gives me more of her to remember.





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