September 19th, 2011
Memorial Services: What works, what doesn’t
That’s it. I’m not going to memorial services anymore. Why: hearing embarrassing and insulting stories about a 94 year old whom I admired literally to death is NOT what I want or expect from a memorial service. Family members think it’s cute to share the person’s embarrassing moments and poke fun at his or her personality or style. Do they do this to alleviate tension and upset? If so, I hope it works for them. It doesn’t for me. Does it work for you?
Here is what I expect: stories that let you admire their past and how much they made a difference in this world. In fact, the most memorable memorial service (!) was that of my business mentor, whose openness about corporate success and secrets, shared with a female business owner and many others over 27 years, gave me for a large part the success that I have received. He was a top executive at DuPont, a Ph.D. in chemistry, and a man who was publishing books and coaching business people up until his death. Many “funny” stories repeated the theme of his unwanted coaching. And yet, hundreds at the memorial service were there from the business community for the same reason that I was — to honor a wonderful and generous man. The speakers/relatives didn’t mention how he never complained despite painful and frightening paralysis and breaks of his legs, the poignant deterioration of his wife, his giving up of a luxurious life on an estate to be close to his wife during her illness in a concrete assisted living facility, and his quiet generosity and leadership throughout his life.
The next time I am invited to a memorial service, I will make sure to speak at it, to memorialize the greatness of people that possibly receive the most admiration from those with the least need to entertain or complain. Please write me a role in the program, so that I can do this one good thing for a dear business friend, colleague, and coach. I will never forget Dave Holmes, and I miss him and admire him despite the “send-off” I experienced. I guess the family just didn’t know him or could see past their history.
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