“You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

— Yogi Berra

Strange as Yogi’s illogical statements seem, there may be some wisdom to be gleaned: Already in 2017 I have attended too many funerals, but generally respond to the celebrations of those lives with a renewed sense of purpose to more fully live each day.

Fascinated by the great variety of life experiences which are summed up in a few paragraphs in the obituaries in newspapers, I often regret that I did not get to know that person and have a conversation about commonalities and life in general.

A wild thought that one’s obit should be published or somehow disseminated prior to their passing was reinforced recently when a long-time friend some dozen years my senior was honored by our community for his numerous volunteer contributions over the years.

Rather than read an extensive resume of his accomplishments, known to most attendees, the presenter simply asked folks to rise and share their memories of special times and remembrances of the guest of honor — what an inspiring “love-in.” So glad he and his family could witness this tribute.

Spring always seems to bring out feelings of human connection for me, encouraging renewals of friendship along with the hope of Easter my faith promises. It is also a time when I remember the loss of special people who were completing their life cycle.

One visit to a friend on his deathbed inspired me to pen a “Wit and Wisdom” column in 1999 which declared that “I had been intimately exposed to the power of hope and the presence of wisdom.” Calling or visiting pre-obit takes courage but has benefits.

Those who have had the privilege of experiencing the peace of passing know the therapeutic glow of deeply held communal spirits. Erik Erikson’s 1982 book, “The Life Cycle Completed,” identifies the maturity and wisdom of older age with the “final chapter” as a return to childlike qualities of faith and hope.

When I taught an introductory psychology class for college freshman, I required each student to think about life goals by writing his or her own obituary. Outlining one’s career(s), hopes and expectations of accomplishments along with a projected date of death was “difficult, exciting, meaningful, purposeful and motivating” according to evaluative comments.

While helping young people launch their life-long learning process, I gave myself the same assignment and still recall my projected date (I still have at least 10 more years!). My resolve to “glow with enthusiasm for life, volunteer for others and grow spiritually” is still with me, perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy ...

Somehow in those younger days the reality of chronic illnesses did not come to mind. As I write this, back pain is the complaint du jour. However, in spite of the aches I still believe in the aging-well axiom that growing old in body does not mean that the spirit has to age also.

I recently discovered the pastor’s script for the celebration of my father’s death in the spring of 1983. He was remembered for his goodness to all as well as his humor — his legacy included simple advice to his grandchildren quoted at the funeral:

“Grandchildren: All of you have a very good start on life and some great fathers and mothers. Go to church whenever you can and learn right from wrong and grow up and have a wonderful life and you will be very happy!”

Participation in the grief process at funerals and receptions celebrating the life of a departed loved one provides personal life lessons, a reminder of how we are doing in our own journey. If you can get in a visit or phone call beforehand, it is a bonus.

Maybe Yogi was “a little right.” There is some benefit to celebrating other people’s lives. It gives us a spiritual boost and strengthens our values and goals for aging well!

Owen R. Houghton of Jaffrey is an aging wellness educator, past chairman of the State Committee on Aging, 2015 Vaughn Award recipient and a member of Monadnock at Home. Readers may contact him at nohoughton@myfairpoint.net.

Recommended for you