Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago,
where one of the memorial services
was held.

Within the last two weeks, I attended the memorial services for two men in their late seventies, both of whom I knew and respected, even though I wasn’t close to them. One was my former boss, the other a pillar of the community.

I attended to show my respect and to pay tribute. In each case, I thought attending wouldn’t be that taxing emotionally. I wouldn’t cry because these were not my personal losses. I have been to funerals that were very much my loss, my father’s, my grandmother’s and my mother-in-law’s, and those were devastating. Utterly devastating. But these memorial services wouldn’t be.

And they weren’t; in both cases they were actually wonderful celebrations of the lives of the deceased. Nevertheless, as I sat in the audience and listened to the remembrances of family members and then the pastor’s and, at the other, the rabbi’s eulogy, I felt tears well up. I simply couldn’t help myself. I was moved.

I realized that at such memorial services I cry not necessarily for the one who has died, although there’s always a touching story that gets me going, but rather for those I have previously lost. All that old sorrow wells up again. I sit there, contemplating life and death, and what’s left of a life. And how to live a good life, and what I could learn from the deceased in that regard.

I also come to the same conclusion I came to all those years ago when my father died (the first memorial service and the first funeral I ever attended): All that is left of you when you die is whatever you left in the hearts of others and whatever you created. That is what lives on. Even what you created only lives on in its meaning to others. Which is also why sorrow is a good thing, even if it hurts, because if I wasn’t moved to tears, then I wouldn’t be feeling for my dad, my grandmother, and my mother-in-law. But I do. I sit there, commemorating the life of someone else who meant something to me, and I cry for my dead loved ones, and they live on. The sorrow of life, when it crosses our path, when it makes us sit down and listen, always hurts, but in the end I think that is a good thing.