The widespread practice of a viewing of the body and wake at a funeral home is not helpful to me as it seems to be for so many people.  But I do need to say goodbye formally, in a memorial service.  As a person of faith, I prefer religious services; but some formal rite of farewell, some ritual recognition that a life has ended is still important, if the family is not religious.  It has always been important to mankind, and it is important to me.  My uncle wanted nothing, no service, no wake, no gathering.  He was in the Navy for 20 years, an enlisted man who retired as a Lieutenant Commander and a Vietnam War veteran.  He could have been buried with full military honors.  It is a beautiful ceremony, but he wanted nothing.  Looking back, it feels like anger, a denial to his family of an opportunity to come together to grieve, to remember.  I don't know.  We never talked about it.  He had a very complicated relationship with his son. But I think it was very wrong of him, and I would have tried to change his mind if I had known what he had decided.

My mentally challenged cousin had a memorial service at the church that he attended faithfully.  It was attended by 150 people.  One of his caregivers filled 6 poster boards with pictures of Paul for the service and the gathering afterward.  He was much loved, not just by me. 

I think there's a lesson here for us.  If we did not have the opportunity to formally say goodbye to those we have loved and lost, I think we need make our own ritual.  We need to say those goodbyes.  I think I am going to write a letter to my uncle and put it in a bottle and drop it in the Missouri River which is near where I live.  Hopefully, it will float out to the sea that he loved.

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