It is Buddhist practice to hold a memorial service for loved ones every set number of years after their death.
Recently, my family and I gathered for a memorial service for not just one family member but 3: my grandpa, grandma, and mom. My grandpa died 14 years ago, my grandma 6 years ago, and my mom 5 years ago. Traditionally, these services consist of chanting, incense offering, and a message by the reverend. The service functions as a time for you to meditate on the memories of the one who died and to recognize the impermanence of our own lives. When the service ends, we all have lunch together to continue to share stories.
However, this memorial service for my family was a little different.
My aunt asked everyone who was coming to the service ahead-of-time to write out a favorite memory or story about my grandpa, grandma, or mom. One-by-one my aunt received email after email of unique stories and memories from all the people that had loved my family.
On the day of the service, her and I stood up front and read what everyone had written. Hearing those stories sparked so many other memories that we hadn’t remembered for a long time. There were even stories that we had never heard before, like how my grandpa asked my brother to make coffee and instead of using the coffee-measuring spoon, my brother used a measuring cup. Lots of the stories had us laughing really hard and others made us miss them all over again.
It felt good to hear those stories during the service. It was nice to see my grandma’s youngest sister laughing as she remembered the quirky things my grandma did. It was moving to see the eyes of my dad and my mom’s sister get teary as they heard the many stories about my mom.
What was significant about this event is simply the fact that we got together to talk about my grandparents and my mom. Listening to the stories brought me comfort because it showed me that my grandparents and my mom were not forgotten and others still missed them too.
Our mortuary talks a lot about the significance of ceremony and the healing moments that take place when family and friends come together when someone has died. Hearing those stories during the service was something our family needed. It was touching to see that people took time out of their schedules to support us and to keep the spirit of my grandparents and mom alive.
It’s never too late to have a memorial service for the ones we love and I encourage you to have family and friends gather together again and remember. It can be as simple as getting together over a meal but to know for that event everyone is given the opportunity to express their loss will continue to heal hearts.
Dr. William Hoy says it best, “A nation that does not honor its dead will ultimately lose its reverence for life. If the dead do not matter, it will not be long until the living do not matter either.”
Continuing to come together years later, or decades later, to remember and celebrate loved ones can be just as, or even more, meaningful for family and friends to experience.
What things do you do to remember a loved one?
Have you ever wanted to hold a service like this but felt held back?
How does your family take time to remember your loved ones?