A friend’s sister recently died. She was 51. Killed by cancer. Leaving behind a husband and three young sons and two sisters, a brother, and her father.
The wake was in a town about an hour west of Boston. I drove there through a light rain, following instructions printed out from Google Maps. The funeral home was the last house on the edge of town. An old Victorian, converted. A man holding an umbrella directed me to park on the lawn.
There was a long line of folks inside. Photos of the deceased and her extended family covered a bulletin board set up on a tripod in the first room you came to. Looking into the reception room, I saw my friend standing with her siblings. She seemed to be holding up well, but you never know exactly how people are feeling. They have to pull themselves together for the wake. They’re on display. They have to be strong for everyone else.
There were lots of people there, many of them related to each other and many of whom who had not seen each other in a long time. And for some of the young children, perhaps their first encounter with some of their aunts and uncles and cousins.
There was a feeling of a family reunion about the whole thing. (Except, of course, for the dead person in a casket in the main room.) And I kept thinking to myself, ‘wouldn’t it have been nice for all of them to get together while she was still alive?’
Of course, people do have family reunions. But that only includes family. And I don’t know anyone who wants to spend a lot of time with just their family. In Norway, where most of my extended family lives, people tend to have big parties on their 50th birthday and then every 5 years thereafter. Those parties include family and friends; all the people who would come to your funeral. It’s the same as a wake, except no dead people attend.
The odd thing is, people are probably not going to travel that far for a party every 5 years. Particularly if they have a lot of friends who don’t live near by. But they are still going to travel to the funeral. My brothers and I have gone back to Norway for the funerals of aunts and uncles. Each time I’ve done that, I’ve thought: “Why didn’t I come back a year before this, while he/she was still alive?”
Have the party. Invite family and friends. Tell them not to bother to go to your funeral. (Though they will anyway, unless you outlive them, of course.) Much better to say good bye while you’re still alive than after you’re dead.