Friday, September 14, 2018

To Honor and Remember: How Celebrating Life and Death are the same

A huge thank you for this beautiful guest post by Anna Fermin Sierzega of Chicago.

Anna is a singer, songwriter, wife and homeschooling mom of two boys. She’s currently trying to figure out how to travel the world and get paid for it.  😉

You can follow Anna's adventures on Instagram @annafermin and find her music on FB HERE.

In this photograph I’m the little one sitting on the end next to my mom, with a big smile on my face, adoring the family at my side.

Today, as I look back on my life (I’ll be 48 this December) I am again feeling the sense of safety and contentment I was experiencing in this photo. 

This feeling resides on the heels of profound sadness and joy. It’s amazing to me how these two emotions can intermingle and exist in the same space. 

On August 30 of this year my father turned 80 years old.  

Almost exactly to that day, one month earlier, my father-in-law crossed over into the wide unknown. He was 90 years old.  

Within a month’s span, which in many ways felt like forever, we celebrated two lives; one lost to a hemorrhagic stroke, the other miraculously making it to 80, despite being in and out of the hospital with several bouts of pneumonia and a recent resurgence of tuberculosis. 

When death comes to someone we love, the vortex of that loss and the pain that accompanies it becomes a sharpened surgical tool, cutting deep into our souls. But I have also discovered that death can be a reminder, a wake-up call, to bring your focus to those who are still walking among us.   

A little backstory: I hail from from a very large extended family of Filipinos, both on my mother’s and father’s side. 

We have a penchant for celebrations.  

It almost doesn’t matter what we’re celebrating. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, Bears vs. Packers, Manny Pacquiao in the ring, your Tita is dropping by, It’s Friday, It’s Thursday… you get the picture.  And especially if there’s food, we’re down for any kind of get-together.  

So when my dad’s 80th birthday was on the horizon it was time to pull out the stops.  

My mom, (who recently recovered from five months of chemo for b-cell lymphoma) matriarch of our family, would spear-head (as she usually does) the big soiree; a celebration befitting the blessings of a milestone reached by her husband of nearly 50 years.  

Well, what started as a “just family” gathering grew to become a party of nearly 200 people. 

We filled the banquet hall, with family and friends traveling from near and far.  

A program was planned. There would be performances and speeches from uncles, cousins, grandkids and my sister and me.  

I was also in charge of creating a video slide show, and anyone who’s done this kind of thing knows it’s a tedious task of sorting through tons of photos, finding the right music, and then lining up that music to the photos just right.  

As I was making it I thought, how uncanny, I was just doing this same thing for my father-in-law’s memorial service a few weeks earlier, and was suddenly overwhelmed with relief to know my own father would be here to see his.  

Indeed, it would be a grand celebration.  

But I have something to confess:  I hate these kinds of parties. 

It has always seemed to me an exercise in excess. I much prefer smaller, intimate gatherings. After all, how can you really appreciate the person you’re celebrating when you’re running around making sure everything is organized and hoping everyone is having a good time?  

As the planning for this party began, I felt the same dread creep over me.  As a dutiful daughter I would have to just grin and bear it…again.

But as the weekend and then the big night unfolded, we were overcome by the outpouring of love and support from our dearest family and friends who took the time and expense to be there for my dad and for our family. 

It was a loving reminder and acknowledgment of our history together.  And as we gathered and listened to the speeches and viewed the yellowed photographs of my dad’s life, our lives, through laughter and tears, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels to my father-in-law’s funeral just a few weeks earlier.  

Both times it was a gathering to pay respect, celebrate a life, and reminisce distant memories.  

One for the dead, one for the living.  

It was in many ways a “living funeral.” 

And I was so thankful for it, despite my earlier trepidation.  It got me to thinking how we should do this kind of thing more often.  Especially for our dear elderly.  

If you can, take the time to connect with those that hold a place in your heart.  

Celebrate them. 

Tell them what they mean to you.  

You can throw them a party, big or little. 

Gather photos and reminisce.  

Or simply sit down with them, pour a couple cups of warm tea and listen to their stories.  

It’s these times of connection, when recalled and remembered, that will bring comfort and peace when you may need it the most.

Enjoy Anna's video tribute to her father for his 80th birthday.

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