I’ve not been to a funeral since my Grandma Cox passed away summer of 2003. In fact, her passing was very near the 4th of July, or perhaps it was the 24th. I know it was around that time because as I was driving back from the hospital, I recall seeing fireworks going off from the freeway. I remember that the last time I had been around my Grandma was when our family took her to see Les Miserables at the Capitol Theater the previous Fall. I remember regretting that I hadn’t spent more time with her, appreciating her boisterous laugh and smiling, happy face. I remember I was wrapped up in my own selfish world rather than being a more compassionate and caring granddaughter when she needed one most. That is one of my biggest regrets; ignoring away the sadness and not letting myself feel love so I didn’t have to feel the loss. But the feeling of loss would’ve been worth the showing of love. I’m sure as death visits us all, we harbor some regret of not being more, greater, better, or less selfish somehow. We regret not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.
That memory is most vivid as funerals go. Before that, I attended my great Grandpa Moffits funeral in 1997ish. Being only 13 at the time, those memories are fuzzy as well. I remember my cousin Jamie and her dad singing from the pulpit. I remember the line of cares to the cemetery. I remember going to the luncheon and eventually forgetting why everyone was in black. That’s about it. That’s two funerals in the last 14 years. Most people would count that as very lucky. I do count it as very lucky. I feel I’ve done a very fine job of avoiding such affairs altogether. No one exceptionally close to me has passed that would warrant my attendance at a funeral, and any other funerals I’ve heard mention of I’d only known the individual very superficially; by random acquaintance or a name that may or may not ring a bell. Or perhaps only knew a family member of the deceased twice removed. Thus, I hadn’t felt a compelling need to attend such things as I consider funerals to be very intimate and personal affairs for those closest to the deceased.
Last night though, I attended a Memorial Service of a young woman my age who I didn’t know at all. She was a member of my singles ward and when her passing was announced on Sunday, I tried my best to remember if I had ever met, talked to, been introduced, or interacted with this girl throughout the last year of being in the same singles ward. I had vague memories of who she might have been, picturing her in possible groups of people or trying to determine if I would have even recognized her on the street. I didn’t know her – not really – but felt that as part of her singles ward, of her home away from home, of her Salt Lake family and a loyal ward member, I should attend her memorial service. I attended because I felt it was my duty. I attended, because for some reason I felt it was what I should do. I attended because when they announced she had passed, I felt a catch in my chest because she was a young woman my age, full of dreams, and life and hopes and disappointments and desires unrealized.
So, I attended for all those reasons and maybe some I didn’t know.
As the service began, I quickly began to get acquainted with someone I had never known. It was amazing to me that such a person, leading a unique and beautiful life very separate from my own, had existed around me. I didn’t know that she had liked bikram yoga or was a practicing midwife. I didn’t know that she was from California or that she cooked amazing and delicious meals for friends and family. I didn’t know she was the oldest child, just like me, and that she always smelled like something fresh and comforting. I didn’t know she was bossy and independent. No, I didn’t know anything about this person who now I would never know. And I felt a pang of regret. I wish I had known her. She seemed like someone everyone would want to know. Why hadn’t I gotten to know her? Where had I missed my chance?
And then I thought…
How many people do I have the opportunity to get to know weekly, even daily, and I don’t take it because I’m too distracted by all the “me me me” in my life? Is it possible to truly appreciate and love each person uniquely and individually when we, as very self-centered mortals, barely have time to construct and organize our own existence? How many opportunities are lost to interact with amazing people like this young woman, and we miss it because of our self-limited tunnel vision? How many people do we not give a chance because of superficial judgements or stereotypes? As I listened to the many memories and tender feelings shared by family members, friends, colleagues, and the mothers she had helped, I felt their loss and even a small loss of my own for not having gotten to know this rather extraordinary person more. This person that until tonight, I could barely remember having seen once a week here or there as we both attended the same ward and even interacted with some of the same people.
Walking away from the memorial service, I found myself in awe of truly how many lives were touched so profoundly by a single individual simply being who she was and doing what she did. I don’t think we can ever truly comprehend how many lives we touch in even the subtlest way. I don’t think we can comprehend the worth of our own souls, our own experiences, our charity and love for others, and our uniqueness on those around us. Can we calculate the worth of a soul in an instant? Are we guilty of weighing and measuring people so quickly that we metaphorically “pass by on the other side?” Many times when attending such functions, we are given a new lens of appreciation for the lives we have or, on the other hand, are inspired to live a life more fully dedicated to those things that matter most; the relationships we cultivate, the hope we can give to others, the hearts we truly touch, and the lives we change, for good or for bad. Last night I was profoundly touched, I was humbled, and I was reminded of the importance of loving those around me to my fullest capacity; of allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to love and to be loved. There is not sweet without the bitter. We risk the heartache for the hope of pure joy. Sometimes we can’t appreciate a life fully lived until that life suddenly ends.
Even in death, this young woman touched my life briefly for the better. Even in death, we can still touch each others lives for good.