By Kim Farris-Luke
Farris Funeral Service
Selected Independent Funeral Homes
I like the imagery of our lives being like tapestries; the picture of who I am today is comprised of thousands of threads woven together to create something rich with meaning. But what does the back of that tapestry look like? Much like the reality of a full, vibrant life, lived with both joy and sorrow – a jumble of threads overlapping, knotted threads in some places, broken or frayed threads in others, a myriad of colors, both dark and light.
Through my work in funeral service and as a grief coach, I have walked with hundreds of people as they journey through grief. One of the most essential aspects of mourning is to accept the reality of the death, which often takes much longer than one would imagine. A healthy way to work through this aspect of grief is to tell stories over and over about the person who died – what your relationship was like, how the person influenced your life, what happened as the person’s life was coming to an end. Memories become sustaining over time, allowing those in grief to be connected forever to the one who has died through the enduring love.
Every person’s story has value
I believe when we open ourselves up to authentic conversations with those around us, we will gather stories that add to the tapestry of our own lives. Once our funeral home was called to care for a man who had lived most of his latter years in a care facility. He had never married, had no known survivors, and was alone in life except for his caregivers. As we began arranging for his burial, we asked a local chaplain to have a brief service for this man at the graveside. As far as we knew, there would be no attendees, but it felt like the right thing to do – to pay honor to his life.
At the graveside service, there were four people present besides the chaplain – me, my father, the cemetery groundskeeper, and one of the staff members from the nursing home. When the chaplain walked to the podium, I expected the standard order of service, with few personal details since the officiant had not known the deceased. Much to my surprise and delight, the chaplain began telling the man’s life story. The chaplain had contacted the caregivers prior to the service and asked for any details they could share with him about the man’s life. He learned the man had served in the United States Navy during World War II; he was a cook on various ships and later pursued work as a cook after leaving the military service. The man was quiet by nature, not prone to long conversations but always polite and thankful for his care.
Based on this small amount of information, the chaplain began to share how he imagined the man’s life had been. He talked about the young man who joined the Navy, perhaps full of fear of the unknown yet dutifully serving his country in the time of war. He talked about how the deceased had nurtured others on the ship by providing them hot meals, sustenance for the difficult work they faced. The chaplain went on to imagine what lay beneath the surface of the man’s quiet nature – what horrors had he seen in battle, how many friends had he made through his work in diners and coffee shops throughout the country, and how did he maintain his gentle spirit in his final years that were marked by physical pain?
The service for this man was one of the most meaningful ones I have ever attended, all because the chaplain chose to honor the man’s story by asking a few simple questions. And that man’s story is forever woven into my own, reminding me of the power of sharing our lives with one another. I don’t want to leave my unique stories untold; I want my family and friends to understand the significance of each thread in my life’s tapestry. My professional and personal experience speak to the importance of having the Talk of a Lifetime; allowing those who love us to truly know us sets the stage for healthy grief journeys in the future, which is a beautiful final gift for everyone involved.