My husband turned 70 this week and the pre-Corona plan was to throw him an Honor Dinner (or Living Memorial) to celebrate his life. Now you might be asking what is the difference between an Honor Dinner and a birthday party. Quite simply it is the sentiment expressed.
Let’s think about a regular memorial for a minute. A loved one has died, the family is grieving, there are pictures of the loved one set out. At some point there is conversation beyond awkward condolences and people start to reminisce. People share stories of the first time they met the loved one, and they share what this person added to their life.
For me, during a loss, this last part has always been my favorite. My favorite because it is here my healing begins. The knowledge that my loved one was loved by others is reassuring, consoling and comforting. I often find myself wondering though, “did she know they felt this way about her?”
I come from an English, German, Irish and Croatian cultural background. Take a look at those again. Not a single solitary culture that is known for expressing emotion! Stoic x4. On top of that our people tend to die suddenly in car accidents or from sudden illness. We aren’t prone to long term illnesses. While that is a good thing, the drawback is there is no anticipatory grief period, no forewarning that death is around the corner. Which means there is little time to prepare and say goodbye. So many loving thoughts remain unsaid until after death. Although that is very healing for the grieving loved ones to hear, the true power of those loving words lay in sharing them with people while they are alive.
Because of my history with these sudden losses, I am one to not leave things unsaid. My friends and family are accustomed to it, but for new friends it takes some getting used to. It is for this reason that I love Living Memorials. Not just for those who know death is around the corner, but for anyone! It’s not something you do at every birthday, but it is good for those big numbers.
Due to CoVid we had to do my husband’s Living Memorial online. I created a Facebook group and instructed people to create a video expressing their sentiments, toast him, roast him or share memories/stories. The point was to express more than simple birthday wishes. I wanted this man to know exactly what he contributed to the lives of others. I wanted him to see the expression on their faces and hear the inflection of their voice; not just read words on a screen. Having it in a group rather than on his page would enable him to use it like a memory book he could refer back to frequently.
While not everyone was comfortable being extremely sentimental, we had quite a few contributors. The look on his face as he watched each video and read each post was priceless. There are no words to accurately describe it. If I had to, I would say it was a mixture of appreciation, love and pride. He was truly touched that anyone would take the time to do this.
In retrospect I think a slightly modified structure would have rendered a result closer to what I intended. I think asking people to share their favorite character trait of my husband, along with their birthday greetings would’ve been less intimidating for guests. I also think that had we been able to do it in our initial format – an honor dinner – with similar instruction, it would’ve been easier for people to really share some more sentiment.
My husband is filled with joy for the experience and that was truly my goal. I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to provide a meaningful celebration for a loved one’s birthday.
In the end it doesn’t matter if it is called a Birthday Party, a Living Memorial, an Honor Dinner or a Hoe Down. If it is making memories, sharing emotion and making people feel loved then it is part of the living well path and that path leads to dying well.
Peace Be With You,