Memorials help us all to remember the dead

Published 7:33 am Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On consecutive Mondays I’ve attended funeral wakes. One for a man I’d never met but whose family I admire. Another for a next-door neighbor when I lived in Spring Valley, a dear friend and former colleague, whom I adored but would love to have known better.

The former was a giant of a man, literally, but also in his community, who lived a full life, including raising eight children. The latter was an Iowa country boy, with a love of the outdoors, who, somewhat unwillingly, had become a giant, also, in a small, southern Minnesota town, through his love for children and their pursuit of education. He leaves behind an amazing wife and two talented school-aged children, whom I adore.

Seeing the pictures of these two loving men, and seeing all the people, paying their last respects, on those they made an impact, has me unusually ready for this year’s Thanksgiving. I’m ready to have some time to remember those who’ve left their imprint on me, who’ve paved the path of my life, so that for me it continues a smooth and wonderful journey.

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My father died in 1998, when he was 52, his life cut short by alcohol, although his official cause of death was cancer. He was such an intelligent man, an informed man, but often it seemed he carried the burden that comes with knowing so much. He always seemed to understand the problems of the world, and always wanted to protect his two children from those problems. I was just months out of college when he died, an incredibly immature young man not truly ready for the world. I know I would’ve benefited greatly had I been able to have more time with him. I know that’s selfish, but so be it.

This may sound gloomy, but bear with me a moment. When people die, assuming they have a base of family members and close friends who grieve their loss, that person is, for weeks, even months , thought of and remembered numerous times daily. They likely dream about the deceased, too, somewhat against their own will, numerous times per night. But as the days pass and busy lives continue at breakneck pace, often the daily remembrances of the dead become once-or-twice-a-week remembrances, which eventually become once-or-twice a month remembrances and then yearly remembrances. This is true of nearly all humans, from the relatively unknown to the world’s power brokers. The reality of life is we keep on chugging, and in so doing we tend to forget those who no longer walk among us.

These people I’ve grieved for in recent days deserve better. All the deceased do. One of my summer respites is Walker in northern Minnesota. It’s where my father is buried and where his family has roots. In that town I played a lot of golf at a long-standing course built on a beautiful plot of land. I’ve also played a lot at Green Lea Golf Course, here in town. One thing those two courses do well is remember those who’ve enjoyed their beautiful land. Both courses are sprinkled with memorials, all placed there by family members and close friends, with the permission of the course owners or members.

As I walk to the first tee at the course in Walker, I am greeted by a striking landscape display put together by my cousins, two guys who truly have a knack for that type of art. Included are some of my grandmother’s favorite flowers, plus a short, written remembrance. When my father died, my boss at the time gave me an apple tree in his memory. We planted it in our back yard.

That’s the way people should be remembered. Of course, it doesn’t have to be on a golf course. That’s just my example. But do something in their memory that helps that memory last.

By nature, we all want to remember the deceased, and maybe the fear of being forgotten is partly responsible for people’s fear of death. Obviously, each family goes about remembering their deceased in their own way. To be sure, gravesites are borne of that need to remember those who’ve paved the trail of our lives. But those are visited mostly by family.

Most certainly, in the days and weeks after the person’s death, the focus should be on supporting the family of the deceased. But as weeks turn into months, and months into years, as the stories subside and memories fade, it’s nice to have something else. Something to help us remember. Something that truly honors that person’s life and what they enjoyed and accomplished. I’m not saying every person needs a bronze statue along the waterside. But something lasting.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a good time for remembering. Why not year-round?

Riley Worth can be reached at