I attended my first Zoom Memorial Service the other day. Who’d have thought a year ago (or even six months ago) that (a) most people would be so familiar with Zoom they’d just jump on without stressing out; (b) we’d even entertain the thought of gathering family and friends for a memorial service in such an impersonal manner rather than being together in the same space; and (c) this online experience could be a touching, intimate way to honor those we love?
Certainly not me.
When we received the invitation from Tom’s cousin to attend the memorial service of his aunt and uncle who’d passed away within hours of one another from COVID-19, I thought, “How could this possibly be a meaningful, connected, impactful event, let alone call it a ceremony?”
I was wrong.
Uncle Bill (a/k/a Boppi) and Aunt Tess (better known by some as Gigi), were a wonderful, giving couple. A true testament to the sacrament of marriage. Together more than 50 years, they have three grown children and a handful of grandchildren who, while they feel blessed the two were together in their illness and death, dearly miss the foundational pillars of their lives.
During the two-hour service we sat, eyes glued to the screen, and listened to the story of Bill and Tess’s lives. I knew Bill and Tess best from our brief years of living in Northern California when, as a young married couple, we became their “adopted” family since we didn’t have immediate family nearby.
They lived in Wine Country so it was a treat to enjoy a traditional turkey feast in Santa Rosa and attend the annual Somona County Thanksgiving Weekend Wine Tasting Event. They were gracious hosts and it was clear to me they were very committed to their family every time I was in their presence.
What I didn’t know was how they were experienced by others much closer to them. I learned Bill had a once-a-week standing coffee date with his friend David during which they solved the world’s problems over a cup of Joe. David told us how often Bill showed up at his door to help (without ever being asked) at just the right time.
Tess and Bill were both extremely active in their parish and looked up to by many in the congregation. There were many people who joined the online service from Illinois, the first home state the couple claimed after marrying and before relocating to Santa Rosa. So much more filled in the gaps of these two dear people I’d only briefly spent time with.
As I sat and listened to one after another share their memories, of course those shared by their children the most touching, it was hard to believe I was sitting in my office rather than in the same space as the other attendees. At times there was beautiful music playing, slide shows, a structure to the event through readings and prayers, and at the end of the formal celebration all stayed on the call to share their additional condolences and memories so Tom’s cousins could even better understand and know who their parents were reflected in the eyes of others’ experiences of them.
Even in these really strange, disconnected times where we wonder what will come next or how we will get through this, there are bonds being built and strengthened between people. It is in the difficult moments of physical life where we have the opportunity to choose resilience and become more fully human. Who we are being is more important than what we are doing. This is what I learned from attending Bill and Tess’s service.
What will others say when the memorial service is for you? Not something to be sad or depressed about, we’re all on limited time here, rather an opportunity to decide and live out the change you wish to see in the world. Every one of us makes a difference. Be a difference maker today!