I was headed to the lounge for my ‘leventy-hundredth cup of coffee, a trip that took me down the service hall and required me to punch in the “secret code” that gets the employees through the not so private lounge door entrance—not so private because the employees are the only ones who can use it, but everybody in the lounge can see us when we do. The lock beeped, I pushed the handle down, and the door swung open. Immediately, four heads pivoted in my direction. It always happens when I come in that door, at night, during a visitation, and there are people in the room. Even though it’s a door, they always seem surprised when it opens.
As I crossed the room, headed for the coffee pot, you could have heard a pin drop. I didn’t know if I’d startled them into silence or interrupted a very private conversation. Either way, I was gonna get my coffee and get gone. But as I stood with my back to the table, pumping the handle on the air pot (it just happened to be the one that doesn’t get in a hurry when dispensing coffee), the conversation picked up again.
It was not my intention to eavesdrop, but sometimes, when folks are only 12 inches away from you and speaking in their normal, outside voices, you can’t help but hear what’s being said. And, in this instance, what was being said made me smile.
These four people, two young men and two young women, I’m guessing in their late teens to early twenties, were reminiscing about their grandmother—or possibly their great-grandmother—the woman whose death had brought them here that evening. There were brief recollections and not so brief stories that one would start and the other would finish, all the while sipping on their coffee or tea or hot chocolate or whatever they had in their Styrofoam cups. And there was laughter. Each memory and each story brought another to mind and, as they sat and shared those times together, there was joy in the remembering.
As I slipped quietly out the door through which I had entered, I thought to myself, “This is what it’s about. This is what we hope to see.” When someone dies and the family and friends gather, it should be a time of sharing, of enjoying each other’s company and reminiscing about the life of someone they loved. Those gatherings don’t often take place unless Death issues the invitation; so many times we’ve heard folks say they never see each other unless it’s at the funeral home. Distant family, and even those who live close by but never have or take the time to visit, will gather together when Death comes to call.
That gathering . . . that remembering . . . is all part of the process we call grieving. It celebrates life and acknowledges its finality while honoring the one who died. And it gives those who choose to come an opportunity to share their loss . . . and their memories . . . with people who understand—who have also lost and also remember. Hopefully we were able to surround the “honoree” with love during their lifetime. Why would we not also want to take one last opportunity and do the same at their death?