As an Episcopal priest, I have been involved with many funerals through the years. I’ve observed that whenever someone has spoken at these services, or at the reception that followed, the comments offered about the deceased have almost always included stories about how the deceased had loved and served others. I’ve heard stories of community service, stories of those who were loving friend or neighbor, father or mother, grandparent, aunt or uncle, stories of volunteer work, stories of generosity regarding time and money, stories of working with non-profit organizations, stories of people who gave in and through a faith community, and stories of individuals who served their country. Rarely at a funeral have I heard stories of a person’s worldly accomplishments, and even when those have been mentioned it was usually in the context of how the deceased used such accomplishments to serve and give back to others.
In last Friday’s column I wrote of how Jack, my father-in-law, was very near death. Jack passed away last Friday night. It was a peaceful ending, permeated with the love of family and friends. This weekend we will gather to remember and celebrate Jack’s life, and I know there will be a myriad of stories shared about his love and service to others as they will help us all remember and honor his life.
Why do we tell these stories of love and service when we remember someone’s life? There are probably many reasons, but two principle reasons come to mind. First, I think we cherish and share these stories because they are a very important way in which the love of the person who has died continues to live on for us. I believe that what you and I do for ourselves comes from our egos and what we do for others comes from our souls, and it is the soul of a person that continues to live on after death.
The second reason I believe we tell stories of a person’s love and service to others is that they inspire all those who tell and hear them to live similar lives. Stories of sacrifice, stories of being there for others, stories of making a difference in the lives of others encourage and inspire us to go and do likewise. Our collective memory is best served when it is filled with stories of love, service, and sacrifice.
This Monday, as a nation, we will celebrate Memorial Day, a time for our collective memory to honor the stories of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in love and service to our country. Remembering those who died in service to our country reminds us that we are the beneficiaries of their sacrifices and additionally inspires us to provide loving service to others, to a cause greater than ourselves. May those who gave so much inspire us to commit to some new form of love, service, and sacrifice for others.
As you celebrate this Memorial Day may you take time to remember and share with others the inspirational stories of those you have known who have loved, served, and sacrificed during their lifetimes.