I saw my Mom today for the first time since we returned from our trip. I love my Mom so much. I got to show her some yet to be edited pictures and I gave her a couple of souvenirs. Did you know that the word souvenir comes from the French verb to remember? Neither did I but my girlfriend is a bit of a grammar nerd and just informed me of that fact after I asked her how to spell the damn word. I couldn’t even get it close enough for my spell check to auto fix it on its own. Ugh!
I have so many stories to tell about Paris and London still, like the one about how we stumbled upon Westminster Cathedral our second day in London and while we were there I remembered it was the anniversary of my Dad’s funeral. Those stories’ details for now will have to wait. What I will say is that when I realized the significance of the day I lit a memorial candle for my Dad, same as I always do for when I’m visiting churches around the world. On the same morning in London I also bought a nice silver Celtic cross necklace from the gift shop for my Mom because it seemed like a perfect way to share this wonderful experience with her. My Dad loved everything Irish, especially the Celtic cross, and it made no matter that this one was from England rather than Ireland. It was the perfect souvenir. Even after 14 years my Mom and I continue to exchange cards on the anniversary of my Dad’s death. Since I wasn’t in the States to mail one, this little guy would be a more permanent remembrance. How special right? I even got a little choked up while I was buying it. I gave my Mom the little cross today and it couldn’t have been given on a more perfect day. Let me tell you why.
Since returning home two weeks ago I have wondered what events in my everyday life would inspire stories for me to blog about like the events of Paris, London, and Cannes did. In fact I even worried a bit that the material would dry up and I’d be left to write episodic recounts of my weeks activities. Blech! And then all of a sudden on a routine Saturday at the end of October, while my girlfriend went to a baby shower for a former coworker, I stumbled into an incredibly moving event. Just like I stumbled into Westminster Cathedral a couple of weeks ago, thousands of miles from home.
This morning I went to a memorial service run by Harbor Light Hospice. I went to it without giving much if any advance thought and I was certain it would be nice but I had no further expectation. I just wanted to do something with my Mom this weekend and she along with her sister had already made plans to attend the service. “Count me in,” I told them so after my 9 a.m. neuromuscular therapy session I drove from Lincoln Park to Elmhurst arriving literally two minutes before the service began. Every six months Harbor Light hospice holds an open memorial service for the families of those who died under their care during that period. They pray, light candles, and talk a little bit about grief and loss. My Grandma passed away in July so she was one of the people that would be remembered on this day. I had very much come to terms with my Grandma’s death well before she actually died. It’s not that I wasn’t sad, but rather that the many years of watching her persevere through dementia was a slow burn for me. At the memorial on this day, what happened next for me was far less about managing grief than it was about seeing the beauty in many people both in the room as well as those twenty something souls represented by the candles.
The service started with a welcome, a hymn, and a greeting from Reverend Ron Brown who does extensive work for Harbor Light hospice and says Mass in Latin at Our Lady of the Rosary in Elgin. We then proceeded to the lighting of the memory candles under the direction of hospice worker Kim Croteau. Kim had a volunteer read off about 25 names, one at a time followed by a bell toll, and she lit a candle for each person whose family was not in attendance. The six families who came to the event lit the candle for their loved one on their own. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this but whenever there is fire involved technical difficulties are likely. Weddings, birthday parties, and even memorial candle lighting services seldom go off without at least a couple of stubborn matches or uncooperative wicks. Today was no different.
Once all the bells had tolled for each name Kim creatively commented how the candles, like the people we were remembering, were all unique and some of them a bit more stubborn than others. We all laughed politely, and then she invited us to come up and say a few words about our loved ones, maybe tell a funny story or share a special memory. I couldn’t help but be reminded of that moment at the 6th grade dance when Mrs. Apprehamian looked at an empty gymnasium floor and asked, “Who would like to be the first couple to come out and show us their dance moves.” Obviously prepared for this possible silence Kim asked one of the other hospice workers if she could get up and tell a story about someone who had recently died in her care. After a brief pause to gather an idea, Megan Carroll got up and told a story. What happened next was uniquely memorable. Over the next half an hour or so, every person in the room opened up with stories about the person they were there to remember. Some of the stories were short and simple, and some of them were detailed and lengthy. They were all loaded with emotion and impact.
I thought I might go ahead and quickly summarize what was said right now in this entry but instead I thought I’d tell each in a dedicated blog post in honor of their individual gifts. It might take me a night or it might take me a week. I only hope you’ll stick around either way and share in the moment, maybe have a laugh or shed a tear. I know I did both. Seven stories: one for each day of the week, almost too perfect. I don’t even know the names of any of these special souls. Their stories have all touched me in ways that I could never have imagined. It reminded me that we all remember in our own special ways. A candle, a cross, a story or two maybe…