A Wonderful Life?

Today’s trail post comes to us from Occasional Caroline.

My aunt died at the end of January. She was ninety-onederful and a truly remarkable woman. She lived her life with purpose and gusto. In the late 60s, she created one of the first on-site daycare centers in the country, for the children of employees at a large hospital in her city. She marched with MLK in Selma. She was a trailblazer, a world traveler, an adventurer, a humanitarian, an influencer, a sailor, an animal lover, and an avid reader who instilled a love of reading in countless children. She had strong beliefs in justice, equality, and human rights, and she didn’t just believe in them, she lived them.

My cousin’s son wrote a wonderful tribute to her, that he read last week at her memorial service. Another eulogy read at the memorial, was written by the minister of the church she had attended for many years, before moving to Florida about 4 years ago. The eulogy started out normally enough, stating her date and city of birth, the names of her parents and sibling (my mother), and some accurate biographical information. Then, random events from someone else’s life began to be interspersed with the things we all recognized. I thought throughout the reading that there were things there that I didn’t recall, but I had never lived in the same city as my aunt, uncle and cousins, so even though we kept in touch quite well through the years, I accepted that I might have missed out on hearing about some aspects of their lives. However, the description of a family road trip when she and my mother were children, I couldn’t explain away.

My cousins and I discussed the service later that afternoon and we had all had the same reaction; WTH? There were life events scattered through the eulogy that none of us had ever heard of, and certainly had not submitted to the minister for inclusion in the service. When I got home, I went to see my mother, almost directly from the airport, and read a copy of the eulogy to her. My burning question was about the story of my grandparents and their two daughters taking a road trip to Mexico, having car trouble, eventually locating a mechanic who was able to order parts but couldn’t get them for several days, so he (the mechanic) invited the family to stay at his home until the parts arrived. When the car was fixed, the road trippers bid farewell to the kind mechanic and continued on their journey to Mexico. Enroute, they saw a man painting a mural and stopped so my grandfather could chat with the artist, who turned out to be Diego Rivera! My mother assured me, in no uncertain terms, that this was not something that had ever happened in any family she’s ever been a part of, or known about.

It’s a mystery, but we have two possible theories as to how this and several other heretofore unknown “family” events made it into the memorial service. Perhaps my aunt wrote her own augmented obituary, left it at the church with instructions that it be opened in the event of her death, just to mess with us. Or, more likely, the minister used a eulogy for another recently deceased woman with the same first name, as a boilerplate for the one she wrote for my aunt, and forgot to delete all the bits about the other dead lady.

In any event, the random additions to my aunt’s life story make for a quirky memory that will live on (and possibly be embellished) in family lore for years to come.

How would you “enhance” your obituary?

22 thoughts on “A Wonderful Life?”

  1. What a great story! I suppose any embellishments would have to be unverifiable and just close enough to the truth to seem plausible.

    “After a concert band tour to Europe with America’s Youth in Concert in 1976, Renee spent the summer before college busking in the Paris Metro with friends she met in the band”.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I suppose it would cause a lot of comment if you prearranged to have actors dressed like characters from Cirque du Soliel show up as mourners, act like they had known you really well, but not tell anyone how they knew you

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Did you see the movie “Big Fish”? One of the final scenes in the movie is the funeral of the main character, and a cast of characters, such as the ones you describe above, attend.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m not very good at remembering plots of movies or books, BiR, but in the case of Big Fish it is pretty easy. The main character is the father of the narrator of the story. The narrator has had a troubled relationship with him because of all the fanciful stories the father tells. The son comes to try to mend fences with the old man who is dying, but the fanciful stories continue. The film has some wonderful actors in it, and imperfect as the film is, it’s a story that somehow resonated with me. I think you’d like it.


  3. Rise and Shine, Baboons,

    Well, Caroline, I would not dismiss anything as “embellished” given the prevalence of family secrets. There are any number of things my family does not know about me, and I don’t really want them to know. I am not saying the stories of your aunt’s life are true, but how do you know they are not?
    Family members do not tell many things. For example, my husband’s best friend, age 85 years, some how dug up a book instructing senior citizens on how to fool their family members about memory loss issues in a ploy to preserve his independence. This worked until 1 month ago, when he allowed himself to become dehydrated, which then triggered kidney failure. He is still recovering at home after a 10 day hospitalization.

    His sons did not know he had this book.

    I could enumerate many family secrets, especially “secret” children, born of lord knows what liaisons.

    That said, my embellishment, ahem, out-right lie, would be about my exemplary artistic talent which brought beauty to those who gazed upon it. The truth: She really enjoyed making stuff and pretending she was an artist.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. My mother would have been thrilled to confirm the veracity of the Mexico trip, had it happened to her family. None of the questionable additions to my aunt’s story were anything that would have been a closely guarded skeleton in the family closet. With the exception of the highlighted tale, it was all plausible. For example, “she always attended the city’s Christmas parade standing on a stepladder, the better to record her children performing in a marching band.” None of her children were ever in a band, marching or otherwise. Must have been someone else. It would be interesting to reveal a family secret or two, but if we have any, they remain well hidden.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. I think the first thing you do is ask for a copy of the manuscript before allowing the service to be held and the eulogy to be given

    Many priests today are 100 years old and dottering fools who should be relieved of their duties except there’s no want to do that

    differences made in life are often just the addition of small things

    an appreciation of the arts,

    the secret to finding your place in the world

    how to use cumin

    some times it the small stuff that helps

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A family preview of the finished product would certainly have caught the errors. Thankfully, nothing insulting or that revealed secrets that would have hurt the living or the dead, was shared about either my aunt or the other dead lady. The minister was a middle aged woman who, if she had read it through a few more times, would have probably recognized the duplication of events from an earlier script, and rechecked her facts. As it was, the eulogy was much more memorable for our family, and will spark conversations and laughter for years. I for one, kind of love the way it turned out.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Many years ago I attended the funeral of the mother of one of my friends. She was the widow of a WWII veteran and was being buried next to her husband at the veterans cemetery near Fort Snelling. It was a dreary, rainy late fall day, and there were just three of us in attendance in addition to the minister and the men who fired the three-volley salute. As the minister was giving the eulogy it became painfully apparent that he didn’t know the name of the deceased. That was downright painful to witness.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Love this story, OC… makes me wonder about some other funerals I’ve been to.

    The fictions: “She was a master teacher of T’ai Chi and Folk Dance, and she could magically get people to sing on key.”
    “She accomplished everything she set out to do.”

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thanks Caroline, what a great story. Love it.

    There would be plenty of opportunities for enhancing my obituary, and perhaps I should get to work on it. On the other hand, there are enough mysteries in my family that I’m still poking at to see if I can dislodge some long buried secret.

    Just this morning I got a message from a man who I contacted a few months ago via Facebook. He is probably related to mother’s family from Drogheda. We’re trying to figure out just how our two families are connected.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is a fascinating story OC, and you’ve written it up well. How the surprising bits of story got into the service is a mystery. Some mysteries demand to be solved; others are more fun if left unresolved. I suspect this one will be more fun if left mysterious.

    Our family had a superficially similar experience.When my mother died there was a memorial service at a little chapel whose minister did not know her. I wrote up a colorful description of what a unique person she was. Family members joined me in meeting the minister so we could give him material for the service.

    None of the material we gave him ended up in his eulogy. Instead he described my mother in generic terms, then went into a long spiel about her relationship with Jesus.

    My mother had no relationship with Jesus. She had a fervently loving relationship with my father. The loved her two kids. She had intense relationships with our cat and our golden retriever. But Jesus . . . no. She had nothing against Jesus, but she never gave him a thought.

    I was angry because several of us tried hard to give this minister information that would have helped him describe the quirky, loving person who had just died. I assume the minister got pressed for time and dragged out some generic statements that reflected his relationship with Jesus, not my mother’s.

    My father died two years later. Someone told the minister I disliked his service for my mother. When we met with him to discuss a service for my father, the poor guy shook with fear in my presence. He basically butted out of the service for my father, letting us do all the talking. And that was okay, certainly better than what had happened before.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. PSA for baboons in the Twin Cities: On Sunday, March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day) Danish American Center hosts the next æbleskiver breakfast. Cost for this “all you can eat and drink” breakfast is $10 per adult, and $5 for children ages 5-12. Younger children are free. The menu includes æbelskiver (Danish pancake rounds) scrambled eggs, sausage, juice and coffee. No reservations are required (note that there is limited space for groups).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I imagine anyone who gives a eulogy at my service will be hard put to find material. I’ve led a pretty unremarkable life. But it would be fun to claim I had written several bestselling books under a pen name that was a closely guarded secret. Then I gave all the money away to charities anonymously.


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