My wife's cousin passed away unexpectedly this week, just ten days before her 66th birthday. Yesterday, we — along with many family members, friends, co-workers and other acquaintances — attended a memorial service in her honor.
I didn't know my wife's cousin very well. I had only seen her a handful of times in the 38 years I have known Mrs. Pincus. Our paths crossed mostly at large family gatherings — weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals and those sorts of events. When I was still new to the family, I'm sure I was introduced and reintroduced to my wife's cousin a few times. I remember that our brief conversations were pleasant, although I cannot remember exactly what we spoke about.
The memorial service began around 11 AM on a Sunday morning, once the attending crowd was coaxed into their seats after a period of mingling and reminiscing. A rabbi spoke and then chanted a few prayers. Then, the rabbi introduced a number of my wife's cousin's family and friends to share their thoughts and memories of a loved one. One by one, a brother, a life-long friend, a neighbor, a nephew and another friend approached the lectern. Each one delivered a short, but heartfelt, tale of kindness, warmth, devotion, loyalty and love. Some of the related anecdotes evoked laughter from the attendees — and rightfully so. These were sweet and humorous glimpses into relationships that my wife's cousin shared with those with whom she was close. Her brother told of long talks at her house when he should have been working on a needed home repair. A friend talked about teaching my wife's cousin how to ski. A neighbor smiled as she spoke about my wife's cousin dropping off freshly baked cakes at her house for no reason at all. Another friend revealed a long tradition of gathering for each other's birthday — with this year's soiree having my wife's cousin's daughter taking her mother's place.
Although I did not know my wife's cousin very well, I was touched by the consistent emotion of each little speech. Everyone spoke of her kindness, her consideration, her ability to listen and comfort, her advocacy for other's ideas and plans. She was a genuinely nice person, something that is rare today.
I have attended several funerals and memorial services — more than I would have liked. I am not a believer in "just because someone dies, all of their bad qualities are automatically erased." I understand that a funeral is not the time to bring up someone's terrible disposition when they were alive (although I have seen it happen). Eulogies are reserved for extolling the niceties someone exhibited during their time on Earth, not to rehash old grudges or to expose an all-around jerk for what they were. Sometimes, I have listened to a eulogy and wondered if I was at the right funeral. But hearing one story about my wife's cousin after another, made me realize that I had never — and I mean never — heard anyone utter a negative word about her. Never!
It is probably unlikely, but that is the way we would all like to be remembered.