Part of living is honoring the recently deceased. It starkly reminds us of our mortality.
In recent weeks, I’ve attended two services for friends, one in St. Michaels and the other in Oxford. Both were Episcopal ceremonies. Both combined solemnity and humor. Both conveyed a sense of the person that rang true to family and friends.
I’ve written previously about Bob Perkins, who retired after a mostly overseas career with the Chrysler Corporation and then became a well-respected volunteer leader at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and the YMCA of the Chesapeake. Bob was a gregarious giver.
He was a player, not a spectator.
He sought results, not credit.
Dr. Ann Webb was a local physician who had a private practice and also served as the Talbot County health officer at one point. She practiced general medicine, preventive medicine and geriatrics. She too was a constant giver. She chose a field that catered solely to the health of her fellow citizens.
She too was a player, not a spectator.
She achieved results with little fanfare.
The Rev. Kevin Cross, the rector at the Church of Holy Trinity in Oxford, said at Dr. Webb’s service that while she had passed on, she hadn’t passed away. She would live in the memories of her family and friends—and the “sayings” she voiced frequently to her sons.
Though these are typical words from a clergyman at a funeral or memorial service, voiced to offer consolation and deflect finality, I think they have merit. The person’s spirit never vanishes.
Every time I think about my best friend college friend, I believe I’m feeling his spirit. I think about his quirks, his gentlemanly manner and his great smile. I used to talk to him every two weeks. I miss him.
Nearly daily, I think about my late mother. She was firm but fair and always deadly honest. She instilled in me my love of politics and public service. I still run into people who knew her, or know about her. I feel her presence.
So, yes, life goes on in memories and stories. We all know that. Stories provide the glue that fuel generational legacy and sense of self. Funerals remind us of our long, lasting ties.
At a reception following Ann Webb’s funeral, a friend mused to me whether anyone would say nice things about this person. I assured this friend that would happen. A bit in jest, I promised that my wife and I would offer kind—and honest words.
When I looked around the crowd at the Perkins and Webb funerals, I was impressed with the large number of friends who attended. I wondered: when we’re alive, do we really know how many people care about us, how many lives we touched? It might be hubris to claim we know.
More than eight years ago, when my Jacksonville, FL friend died, a viewing was held at a funeral home. A Catholic priest asked if anyone cared to “testify” on behalf of Bill. A young woman stood up and identified herself as a salesperson at a clothing store that Bill frequented. She then spoke about how well he treated her, pointing to his gentlemanly manner. I was not surprised by her comments—only by her feeling motivated to pay homage to her former customer.
Funeral and memorial services are rituals that allow family and friends to be part of a touching farewell to a loved one or friend. They provide a sense of community to all participants; whatever their connection to the deceased person, they can mourn and grieve together.
I think about the following words from the Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun,” and appreciate the sentiment expressed so well about grief and life:
Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right
When I heard often humorous stories about Bob Perkins, I felt some connection not only to a man with whom I served as a fellow board member, but also to those who experienced him as he strode the world on behalf of Chrysler.
When I listened to two eulogists at Ann Webb’s service, I heard about someone whom I barely knew. I serve on an organization’s membership committee with her husband. I heard stories about Dr. Webb’s calm and caring nature, exhibited during sometimes hectic boating voyages with friends. I thought I wish I had known her better beyond superficial chitchat on social occasions.
Our lives are enriched by our friends. This is true not only for extroverts like this columnist, but also introverts who savor friendship in smaller doses. We are better for knowing people like Bob Perkins and Ann Webb.
And, yes, we may wonder whether anyone will say kind things when we die. Will a church overflow as in Webb’s case, and a tent burst at the seams as it did in Perkins’ case?
I pray for the Perkins and Webb families as they grieve the loss of a husband and wife, mother and father, grandfather and grandmother. A seat will be left forever open at a holiday meal. Silence will fill the air. A person we depended upon no longer is there.
Yet, when the sun shines, when the burden of grief subsides a bit, we can feel blessed by the sun, the radiance of the warm memory of a deceased family member or friend.
Memories and stories fill the void. They never pass away.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.