For me, a memorial service is a bitter sweet occasion.
On the one hand, it is infused with sadness for the loss of someone who was loved, held as a dear friend, admired or simply respected. On the other hand, it concentrates the mind on the enormous reality, the sheer privilege, of being alive. It is as though the person departed is sending one final message to all who have gathered in his or her memory: ‘I am no longer with you in body, but the spirit of my life must live on within you. You must now pick up my mantle and continue the work I can no longer do myself.’
It may be that one is unable to continue the precise work which was once the remit of the deceased. However, that does not stop one being energised by the spirit of that person’s worldly actions; to take on their enthusiasm and energy, their humanitarian ideals, their love for life and their respect for those around one.
So, memorial services are, in my opinion, correctly termed “a celebration of life”. They should be times of thanksgiving for the value a person has brought to this World – a celebration of their life. But that is not where the matter should rest. Each and every one of us who attends a memorial service should leave with the idea of reviving those humanitarian traits within ourselves which may have started to fade. Each one of us should renew our resolutions to achieve the aims we have set, or, indeed, set newer and higher ones which may stretch us just that little bit further. In other words, memorial services should also serve as a private celebration of our own lives, that is, the fact that we are alive and have the advantages, the benefits and the opportunities that such fortune brings to us.
We owe such actions to the memory of the one who has departed this life and we owe it to those who, perhaps, one day will attend at our own memorial service. That we, through our own endeavours, may serve to act as the spark of revitalisation which may one day enthuse others to lead their own lives in the spirit of our own life and work.
And if all that is insufficient to make you reflect on the great privilege of being alive, then perhaps the following quotation will. I am uncertain as to its origins and therefore cannot properly attribute it. However, the words themselves have, for many years, been an inspiration to me:
‘I do not wish to find, when I come to die, that I have not lived.’
It is as important to those who continue after us. We owe it to them to take action to ensure that they will not find, when we come to die, that we have not lived. We must take great care not to squander this great gift of life that is in our possession.
The time for doing that living is now…today…this very minute.
As for those to whom we have paid our last respects:
Requiescat in pace