I was at a meeting this week and said I needed to be done by 2 pm so I could attend the funeral of one of our residents. The responses were, “I’m sorry,” and “How sad.” Yet my reply was, “No! He lived a wonderful life.”
And I believe that.
“Still, it’s a funeral,” was another response. And then I explained that I used to really hate the idea of funerals too, until I worked for this company for a while. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really sad and I still shed a lot of tears, but now I consider it a way to celebrate their life and to appreciate the life I have been given. I once had an ailing resident tell me, “It’s okay to be sad, but this is the way it’s supposed to be. I have lived a long, full life and still have things I want to do, but older people are the ones who are supposed to go – not children or young parents.”
The service was supposed to start soon, so I sat down near the back of the church. A photo of a very handsome young pilot was on the screen at the front of the church. What a smile. I looked at the program and was reminded. What a life.
Looking around the room, I saw about 40 people celebrating that life. Yet, when I looked closer, I noticed that about a dozen of those gathered were from Legacy Estates. Half of those were teenage kids from the Dining Services department. Kids who had waited tables for the resident and his wife at dinner. Kids who had listened to his stories, but probably more often shared their own with him, because he was always interested. They knew his point and wave in the hall. They knew his bear hug. They knew how he touched his hand to his heart when something was special to him.
And they learned from him. They learned that life can be joyful. They learned that growing older can be a great thing, especially if you embrace it and you continue to grow during each phase of your life. They learned that getting older often comes with some not-so-great things too. They learned that love can last 70 years and more. They learned that friends make the good times better and the hard times easier. They learned that family is defined in many ways.
I saw one of the kids later and asked her who was sitting beside her, because I didn’t recognize him. “My dad. He knew how much I loved [this resident] and how important it was for me to go to the funeral. He didn’t want me to go alone, so he came with me.”
The arms of the Legacy family are far-reaching.
The resident’s granddaughter spoke at the funeral of how her grandpa used to fly a B-17 in Air Force flying formation and now that he had passed, her grandpa had “left the formation.” (By the way, if he’d had his way, that was all that would have been said for the entire service.) This young woman said she realized that even though her grandpa wasn’t with her anymore, he had given her so many others to turn to in her times of need. She said, “He had filled my life with people who will step into formation when I need them.”
As I sat in the back of the church and watched people quietly leave, I realized that most of these Dining Services kids would go onto school and possibly to other careers. And even though it is not as final as the loss of a B-17 in formation, they, too, will be missed. Many more young people will fill in our Legacy formation so that we are flying full once again. On the bright side that means that more young people will have the opportunity – and the blessing – of working with and spending time with some amazing older people and realize how awesome they really are.