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Tina's Final Gift

Someone I have known for many years died last week after a long illness.  She was very ill at one point and was sent home to die. The hospital said there was nothing more they could do.  Then, with the help of an alternative practitioner, she rallied and was well for over a year.  And then, one day, she wasn’t.  She died in the local hospice surrounded by family and friends.

Although I had known her for so many years, we were not close friends.  Not for any particular reason, it just hadn’t happened.  But that didn’t prevent me from appreciating her and recognising what a wonderful human being she was.  Just how wonderful though I didn’t really know until her funeral.

It was an amazing gift to have attended that gathering of family and friends and people like myself who had known her over the years.  She had planned her funeral with the help of friends and family.  She wanted a colourful funeral and something that showed her life and the people and things she held dear.

So, the venue was filled with colourful flowers, lots and lots of them.  On two tables were many of the artefacts of her life including a pack of cards – Skip Bo – which I imagine she played with members of her family.  There were photos and statues and little nick nacks.  And there were lots and lots of candles.  She loved candles and requested that there be lots at her funeral.

The family had a lovely ceremony around the candles.  They lit one main candle and used it to light one other candle on the table.  Then they passed the main candle to another member of the family, who in turn lit another candle.  It took several minutes until each family member had lighted a candle, and all the while her favourite song played in the background.

There was also a DVD showing on a big screen with pictures of her life from the time she emigrated to Australia as a very small girl to one of the last days of her life when she was obviously worn out.  It’s a very brave thing to do, to have your friends see you at the very last.  There were at least 200 people at that funeral.  That last picture showed her asleep in a hospice bed, with a very young baby asleep beside her.  Probably a grandchild.  An end and a beginning.  I can’t explain why, but that picture was really big emotionally.

Quite a few people spoke.  There was a eulogy, and a poetry reading, an email was read out, some memories were relived.  Each person who spoke told of Tina’s wonderful smile, her warmth, her feistiness, her endless capacity for loving and appreciating others and her gift for making each person she was with feel important.

What is most remarkable to me however is that Tina did not live a big life in the sense of grand achievements.  She didn’t climb Everest or sail single handed or invent something to save the planet.  She didn’t travel widely or start funds for causes.  She lived bravely though and with gusto.  Always with love.

Her final gift of love to us all was her funeral.  It was a big event.  She planned it that way.  It gave me a chance to experience some very big emotions.  It wasn’t sadness.  And I won’t miss her – because she wasn’t really part of my life.  So what was it that brought those very big emotions to the surface?  I think it was that death is a very big deal.  It’s as big a deal as being born.  The tears are an expression of “bigness” not of sorrow or grief.

I felt very privileged to be able to experience those tears and that emotion.  To have it drawn out of me, to remember that I have big emotions.  They are so easily forgotten in the day to day humdrum.  And I’m going to risk a cliche here: it is so good to have life put in perspective.  When it’s brought home to you that there is an end to this life, and that we will all go the same way. Whether our lives were “big” or “small” we will all make that big leap between worlds and for a while at least I was reminded that I want to live my best life.  It has reminded me of what’s important.  “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is so true.  Enjoy the good stuff is so true – enjoy it and savour it.

This is what I think Tina did.  She lived her life to the full.  She lived the opportunities she had in front of her.  She was both adventurous and content.  She was small in terms of climbing Mt Everest, but she was HUGE to her family and friends.  They loved her, really loved her.  And you know what she will be remembered for most?  Her smile!  How good is that?  How wonderful to be remembered for your smile.

And one last thing – the bow on the gift you might say.  When the service was over and the pall bearers were getting ready to lift the coffin, Tina’s daughter passed on Tina’s last request: That we follow the coffin out of the venue and up the road – and as we follow, we dance!  Yes dance.  So as the coffin moved out of the hall, dance music started to play with the words “get up, get up and dance to the rhythm of life, the rhythm of life ….” and so the very end of Tina’s life was a chain of dancing friends and family – shuffling and swaying and crying and laughing.

So thank you Tina for your final gifts to me.  A chance to experience those very big emotions in a safe way and a reminder to live my best life.  I too want  to be remembered for something as simple and good as a smile.  And on my final breath, I want to be content with and thankful for, the life I have lived.

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2 comments to Tina’s Final Gift

  • solita

    Very well said. You have such a talent in writing! just one comment though : all flowers were real not artificial matching Tina’s amazing life!
    lots of love


  • Anita

    This is lovely. It does justice to what we all were invited into and to be privileged to witness. Thank you.

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