Our lives are full of important rituals--religious, social and cultural. In times of crisis the predictability of these traditional practices can offer comfort. Our trip to Massachusetts for the funeral of my mother-in-law introduced Nora and I to the rituals of Catholic mourning. It dawned on me as I sat through the open-casket wake, the funeral cortege, the mass and the graveside prayer that neither Nora or I had ever attended a traditional funeral. These events were all based on highly structured Catholic and social ritual, but it seemed to me that somehow the very essence of "Stella" was not acknowledged. The emphasis was on her life in heaven, and not her life on earth among all of us who loved her. The exception to this was the beautiful eulogy that Paul wrote for his mother.
After my father died there was a small memorial service in California followed by internment in a mortuary in Seattle. Both of these events were led by individuals who didn't know my dad, and these rituals failed to provide either comfort or closure. We did better when Mom died. Five months later familiy members met in Seattle for a long weekend. We visited all the places and neighborhoods in Seattle that were important in the lives of both our parents. It was a weekend filled with memories, reminiscences, laughter and a few tears. For all of us, it was a meaningful celebration of their lives.