When I do go, it is odd because funerals bring together a lot of people, and what do you say? Me, especially, being more comfortable at a computer keyboard than face to face – but I think there is some level of discomfort for everyone there. Everyone has a link to the deceased, and everyone there is still alive. Is it OK to be happy to chat with someone you haven’t seen for a long time? To laugh and share happy memories of the deceased? To talk about things other than the deceased? To smile and be hungry and do all the things living people do, even in the face of death?
Before this column gets too morbid – because morbid is the opposite of my point here – I want to tell you about something I attended. It wasn’t a funeral, exactly – no, the person had died three months before, and yet this event was all about the deceased.
It was a Celebration of Life for William W. Owens, who died June 13 at the age of 73.
It was held at the Bronson Conservation Club, and there was a huge spread of delicious food, much of it vegetarian – from falafel and hummus to vegetarian enchiladas to salad to yummy nuts on the tables…
I shouldn’t go on and on about the food when describing an event about death, right? Wrong. This was not so much about death as it was about, well, as it was called, a celebration of life.
I can’t say I knew Bill Owens very well. Many of you have seen him running through Norwalk, flashing the peace sign to you as he went by. Me, too.
Other than that, he called to compliment me on a column I wrote shortly before the last election. I taught one of his daughters. And he was kind to my older son, from when he taught Bill’s daughters tennis lessons, and on to when he took my son to a Blue Jackets game when my son was a law student in Columbus, and met up with him in New York when our son lived in Brooklyn and Bill ran in one of his 26 consecutive New York City Marathons.
My husband had more to do with Bill, as both are former Huron County prosecutors.
Our connection with Bill was only one of many connections he had with people all over the country, who came to honor him at this celebration of his life. Ex-wives, family, co-workers, acquaintances, his six children (who live in a variety of states) and his grandchildren and so many people whose connection with Bill I didn’t even know…the room was full of talking, tears, laughter and many stories.
There was a slide show running throughout the event, with pictures of Bill in various phases of his life. The pictures of him with his children at various ages were very touching.
There was a pamphlet with a few pictures of Bill. There was a deeply religious passage in the pamphlet from “Thoughts in Solitude” by Thomas Merton on the back. There was a section with his athletic records and accomplishments. There was a section with some of his favorite quotes, from baseball player Satchel Paige to the Dalai Lama.
His brother told some stories to the assembled group, and so did some family members, and then the mike was open to anyone else who wanted to speak.
Although during the drive over to Bronson I was full of trepidation about what to expect and whether I should rather be at home grading English papers, on the drive home I felt uplifted and glad I went.
It felt totally comfortable there.
I wish Bill could have been there. But then, so did everyone else who had gathered to celebrate his life.
Other than that, it was a perfect afternoon.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.