These last few years, I have attended many “celebrations of life” for family and friends. At each event, I am moved by the testimonies for the newly departed given by those in attendance. Without exception, I think how sad it is that the one who would benefit most from hearing the loving words is not there to hear them!
A number of years ago, I tried to imagine my own funeral, and hoped that when the time came, there would be many people crying their eyes out because I died. Apparently, I’ve matured since then, because I’ve decided that I’d much rather have a joyous party of singing and dancing to celebrate my death, as they do in other cultures. The only problem is that I want to be alive at that party so that I could celebrate, too!
Amazingly, my dearest wish came true, and although it seems beyond belief, I did attend my own celebration of life! While there, I heard loving, exaggerated compliments galore, and I hugged all my family and friends, some of whom traveled long distances to celebrate with me. Okay, you probably already know that it wasn’t really an event for my funeral, but nevertheless, it had all the joyous elements of a funeral, only without the tears and regrets.
Over a year ago, my husband Bob, bless his heart, decided to plan a surprise 80th birthday party for me. He knew that I love surprises. He also knew that for each of my 54 birthdays with my first dear husband, Ray, I had hoped for a surprise party, and each year the surprise was that Ray did NOT have one.
So Bob secretly got in touch with my three daughters, saying that he wanted to host this party, and since it had to be a surprise, it couldn’t be any time near my birthday in early December. They agreed to have it in mid-August, when everybody was available to travel to Annapolis.
He had beautiful invitations printed and mailed months ahead of time and enlisted my best friend, Jan, to deal with the RSVPs and other logistical details. From our albums, he collected a wealth of photographs that Jan scanned and made into a document slide show. She also hired a professional photographer to document the party itself.
For the day of the party, Jan made plans to have lunch with me at Café Normandy. She then came up with an elaborate excuse to stop by the party location, a half block away, and said that she needed to pick up a gift certificate. She suggested that I go in with her, and BOOM!
Bob had chosen an upscale venue at the Maryland Inn to have the party, thereby blowing his children’s entire inheritance! He asked each guest to bring a photo or a written memory to share. It was those written notes that touched me so deeply, and they were just the sorts of things that are said to remember the departed, only this time I got to hear them! Lucky me!
At this marvelous gathering, my three children, my cousins, friends, Bob’s sons, and all of their families all met one another, forming new friendships and connections.
There were also existing, but unknown, connections found. For example, my cousin Lindy from California was chatting with my Arabic teacher, Lelia, who studied theater in Shanghai for two years and had just returned from Cairo. Lindy mentioned a student of hers who was eager to learn more about Kunqu opera, and Lindy had suggested that he look into studying in China.
Lelia: “Is his name John Lowe?”
Lindy: “Yes! How did you know?”
Lelia: “Oh, he stayed in my dorm just down the hall from me in Shanghai! He DID take your advice and is studying at the same graduate school I am!”
The world is very small, indeed.
After the party, my immediate family came back to our home for a longer visit and dinner. They had come from all over. Lindy came from California, my cousin Annie from Washington, and my three daughters from Texas, Ohio, and Virginia. We talked and talked about our family and our lives. The conversations continued all the next day.
That weekend was really the highlight of my life. I don’t mind now that when the time comes, I will miss the celebration of my life that is bound to happen. I had attended it already and I had FUN!
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Katherine Haas taught at Key School in Annapolis for 43 years. She now spends her time enjoying the arts with her husband, teaching Chinese, working part-time at Key as Scientist in Residence and engaging in progressive activism.