I hate wakes. I realize this is a fairly common attitude towards this end of life ritual but they have just always rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve been the person in the receiving line and the visitor many times and it just seems like cruel and unusual punishment for both parties involved. I have always thought it was unfair for people who are seemingly strangers to see you at one of the most raw, emotional rollercoasters of your life. As they explain to you how they knew your loved one you listen but honestly you’re just trying to keep breathing without having a breakdown.
This past week I spent some time at one of these services and I noticed something I hadn’t ever paid attention to before. I sat there and watched what seemed like hundreds (and very well could have been) of people come to pay their respects to a man who had passed away. I couldn’t take my eyes off of his wife. She stood up there, being perfectly polite to each and every one of them. She was patient, kind and loving. She was strong even though I’m sure she was falling apart inside. She looked devastated but classy at the same time. That’s when I came to the realization that there was an encouraging aspect of this wake. It gave those closest to the one who has passed the opportunity to be a comforter rather than the one who is comforted. Even though they are hurting the most, they spent hours hugging and encouraging all the visitors as they mourned. They assured them they weren’t alone in missing the presence of this human being. The family stood up there knitted together by the adoration they have for someone who is no longer with us. I was mesmerized by their resilience and their ability to comfort while being comforted.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
After taking this all in for a bit, I began listening. Not listening like you listen to music on your ipod when you go for a run but really listening. Paying attention to the facial expressions, hand motions and details of the stories that were being told. Visitors were consoling loved ones with stories of this man who had passed and the stories were so fantastic that I began to write them down. They told of how he took time to help the elderly, he was very positive, worked hard and was unbelievably proud of his children. This man took the time to teach other young men his trade and had a special karaoke song he sang often for his daughter. He was obviously the kind of man that touched many lives without even knowing it. I began to wonder, what if he knew? What if we all lived in a way that we told those who make a difference in our lives how much we appreciate them? And on the flip side of that, what if we attempted to make a difference in each life we touched? I’ve been encouraging my family that for the year of 2016 we attempt to be a blessing to each and every person we come in contact with. I have no doubt in my mind that this man was just that, and the appreciation of his life given at the wake was priceless.