[at-l] Wakes, gifts, lives, love...

Tom McGinnis sloetoe at yahoo.com
Sat Feb 27 14:41:27 CST 2010

I sent this to the list on St. Valentine's Day, but with the spotty delivery, and possibly under the influence of many cc'ed addresses, it never made it to posting.

February 14th, 2010
I apologize that it's taken me so long to write this; I'll trust to your understanding.

My Dad passed quietly away in North Carolina last month, and as things were assembled to appropriately memorialize this passing (a helluva guy -- a habitual educator/health professional, a sturdy family man, a ferocious fan of slapstick), the "Irish wake" he'd called for (for decades) upon his death seemed to be falling through the cracks. Family spread across the country; lifelong friends in the Northeast. There was crisis. There was some work. And then resolution. A "small" wake in North Carolina, something more planned in Connecticut in the spring.

Now, what *is* a wake? I'd grown up with the phrase in my ostensible Roman Catholic household. It seemed like a junior funeral -- the opening act. Did it have a defined meaning? I never knew. As well, an "Irish wake" always seemed to be distinguished -- why?!? What sort of special license did the Irish claim?

By my teen years, I had assembled enough of a vague impression that an Irish wake was more of a party than anything else, but was still in the dark as to what a normal wake was or its role in the greater scheme of one's passing. All that was cemented in my brain, and repeated over ensuing decades, were my father's words dismissing much of traditional ceremony with, "No, no. I want an Irish wake. I want to be stood up in the corner with a drink in my hand, and everyone having a good time in front of me."

So, wake:
Doesn't say much besides visiting at the deceased' house.
tells a bit more of the tale: visiting, eating, telling stories and relaying events that memorialize the deceased, perhaps ("in some cultures") with things getting "quite raucous, especially towards the early morning hours." Now we're getting somewhere. Sounds more like Dad. And then I found this, cementing the Irish component:

  Since I grew up and still live in a largely Irish Catholic cohort, I
  don't know much about how other cultures usually deal with death. But
  I can tell you about the Irish side of my heritage: We do like to
  spit in the eye of death - with prayer, with jokes, with song. (And
  a side of sarcasm, please.)

  And much like my own father's funeral, I got a much bigger picture
  of [this person] as reflected in the eyes of those who loved him.

  But it wouldn't be a real Irish wake without this, one of my
  favorite Irish poems:

   May those who love us, love us.
   And those who don’t love us,
   may God turn their hearts.
   And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
   may He turn their ankles
   that we might know them by their limping.

So it's 2010, and Dad, with surprising speed, but with a truly amazing grace, passes. We set aside the evening, and gather.

And we had what was so what my father wanted: a celebration -- a [spitting] in the eye of death. To tell stories. Laugh alot. Appreciate -- (and here's where the point was made for me) -- appreciate what WE had with HIM -- my Dad -- Eddie -- Genie baby -- Gene-oh -- Gene. Appreciation. Take stock. Measure. Total. Be grateful. Be grateful of that limited time on this earth we call Life. And in the great, grand limitlessness of it all, recognize that our time here -- our lives {that seem so important when wrapped in the day-to-day} are but tiny, tiny slivers in the grand scheme, eh?

And in the middle of Dad's wake -- a house filled with love, and respect, and even a certain flavor of consideration for the future on the part of us, his survivors -- in all that tumult (really "quite raucous, especially towards the early morning hours") -- it occurred to me that in many ways our lives are the last gift we might give our friends and family -- that they might have a wake worthy of the life it celebrates. My Dad gave us -- his friends and his family -- one good wake. What a gift! I felt the glow from that wake for days -- I *still* feel it. "Not bad...."

And then I felt too like Dad was throwing one more lesson our way -- in the middle of all the laughter and love -- I discerned quite clearly, "Live a life worthy of a good wake. It's the last gift you'll give your friends." I had to pass that on.

And so I wish for you -- my family and friends -- the same lesson, and the same good sense: do live a life worthy of a good wake. Make your last gift -- a reflection of your life -- a special one.

With great big love,
Tom McGinnis

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