Now that we’ve closed the books on 2021, everything that was going to happen last year has happened. There’s no going back, no do-overs, and no filling in something you’d planned to do but didn’t have time. Those are the facts.
How many of you sent out holiday cards this year, only to have one or more of them returned? Sometimes, of course, there’s a slight mistake in the address. Yet, in others it’s because someone has died in the past year, and we had not heard of it.
It’s strange to learn of a death, months later, one no one informed us about, particularly when it’s distant family or someone “like family” that someone should have known we’d want to hear. This is an issue that faces everyone whose loved one passes away unexpectedly.
Placing a loved one’s name in an obituary in the newspaper is something we find more challenging for some on a tight budget. We feature all obituaries on our CallawayJones.com website at no cost, but unless someone shares that link on Facebook, or you check our site daily, you won’t know.
We live on tight schedules with deadlines, expected to do more, we’re less likely to run into mutual friends who might share important news. When was the last time your phone actually rang vs. your receiving a text message from someone trying to reach you? Important, meaningful conversations and personal visits have decreased, especially during the holidays.
Chelsea and I were surprised to learn a mutual friend had died a year ago, and no one told us. He was an old friend that we saw once a year, usually at a football game, but this year we didn’t, and no one said a word.
Our relationships with friends and extended family are among the most prized things we have while we’re alive.
In the course of planning for our own futures, we may decide to have a private gathering for ourselves or a loved one. There are a number of reasons for this decision, but one thing to consider is how it is that those who are grieving need a chance to heal.
One of the most important ceremonies, so to speak, that can occur is a period of visitation, to gather together and remember the loved one who passed. In these periods together hearts begin to heal. Saying out loud that we are hurting, that we love and miss the presence of that person in our lives means much to us in the way of progress in moving forward. It’s just not the same when we go to dinner with one other person and talk about someone who’s gone before us as it is when we see people across the room we may not have seen in several years, coworkers, old neighbors, and remember the good times shared with the person who died, and all of us doing it together.
If we can’t say “We are so sorry for your loss” to the family, it feels hollow to sit at a table in front of a “greeting card” and try and write our thoughts and put the heart and spirit we feel in our words. Words said out loud have “life” and “last,” or at least that’s the way I look at it.
Healing alone is not as easy as a process started together. There’s such a benefit from talking out loud…but when people call for a private time to celebrate a life together, when they don’t have a funeral service because they “don’t want a fuss made over them” or “don’t want to put anyone out” or “interrupt someone’s plans and spend all that money coming here,” these are reasons people often cite for not having a formal visitation or reception.
Some people don’t even want to have their obituary or death notice in the newspaper. This is a very sensitive subject, but it’s one that should be taken seriously. There are a number of reasons not to want to announce a death, but they’re not always easy to understand or explain.
Many times in families there are exchanges of cross words or business disagreements when the division of property occurs from generations before yours. Hard feelings cause the division of a family into at least two sides, if not more. Everyone lines up to take a side, often over the division of estate items and funds. Then, silence ensues as lawyers are left to suss out the property and no one gets to share memories.
Words and memories and photos are so much more important than dollars. It may take years to see, but bringing hearts together, in good times and bad, can help healing faster than anything.
When someone passes away and we don’t learn of their absence for even a year or more, it’s like being knocked back with a 2×4 to know that for however long a time you didn’t know it, someone important in your life was gone, and no one told you. Even worse is when you send a holiday card and it gets returned to you, and it’s then when you realize that they died. And no one told you either. People don’t always know who is important in one another’s lives.
If you asked five of your closest friends and coworkers who would be the five most-impacted people when you died, how many of them would actually know who is important in your life? That’s the value of having a public service, or a published death notice or online obituary, so that word can get out and around and loved ones won’t be blindsided.
You might say, well, if they were such good friends, they should have known. There’s truth to that statement and yet, reality is such that we live in a society of instant communication. And, out of sight, often, is out of mind. If we’re not in the same social group anymore, or live in the same neighborhood anymore, then we’re not as likely to be patched into the people who would tell us what has been happening that we might know about.
No matter what your opinion is of whether or not anyone would really care if you died, the truth of the matter is that it really DOES matter to many people that you are here or have left those among us. Maybe it’s uncomfortable to think about having your life honored in some way or other because you don’t think you’re out of the ordinary or special, but the truth is you are special. You do matter and you do impact people in ways you don’t even realize every day of your life.
So, before you say, “Don’t have a service. Don’t put in the paper. Don’t go to any big fuss,” just let your loved ones know that you want a “simple” celebration of life or service, for their grief, and you can allow them to encounter and decide what will bring them the greatest comfort. It’s the last kind act you can do for them.
In this New Year, we can all make a better effort to keep in touch with people in our lives, so we are not the last to know what’s going on with people we care about. Update your address book, both on computer and the handwritten kind. Mark your calendars and remember important dates. As James Taylor sings, “Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel.” Happy 2022 to all of you!
Cody D. Jones ‘02
Owner & Community Member