This may seem like a very strange thing to say, but this past weekend I went to the best memorial service I have ever been to.
It was for the father of a good friend of our kids’. Mark Morris, a retired schoolteacher in the Newport-Mesa district. Although I did not know him well, I consider his wife a dear friend. She exemplifies grace, patience and kindness.
Saying Barbara is the salt of the Earth doesn’t accurately describe her. She is even saltier and Earthier. She is the real deal. Raising a teenager, working full time, attending school to earn her MBA, and leading a Girl Scout troop, Barbara’s feathers never seem to get ruffled. When her husband became ill this past year, although it must have been torture, she never lost her smile or sense of humor.
When he passed away, without missing a beat, she planned the most wonderful tribute to her husband. A true reflection of his laid back lifestyle. It was held on the patio of a Mexican restaurant. Festive music lightly played from speakers overhead. At the center of each table were myriad framed photos – acrylic, wood, and metal frames were arranged in a circle with colorful flowers in the center. Near the photos were baskets of chips and salsa. People sipped sodas and beers, ate chips and salsa as they lifted the photos, reminiscing, pointing, sharing, and even laughing.
Usually at a funeral or memorial, the service takes place first followed by a meal. At Mark’s memorial, a long buffet table offered a spread of delicious food before any formalities took place. After everyone had their fill of taquitos, enchiladas, quesadillas, rice, beans, and salad, after everyone had hugged and visited, after a sense of warmth had already enveloped the patio; Barbara, wearing white pants and a royal blue top, rather than black, stood up and officially kicked off the celebration of Mark’s life.
His daughter shared a memory of being at the dump with her father when she was 5. She found what looked to her like a genie bottle.
Later at home, Mark called his daughter in to the room and there on the table was the bottle from the dump with a cork in it. She pulled the cork out and smoke magically rose. There was also a note: “I am your Genie, I will be with you forever and ever.”
“That was the kind of person my dad was,” she explained. He made things magical. From then on, each time she moved, she brought her genie bottle with her, and as a grown woman, she still has it. The value of the bottle entirely tied to the memory he created.
One granddaughter explained how he taught her so much, and always made it fun, so “you never realized you were learning”
His best friend of 50 years spoke fondly of their times together.
His daughter played guitar and sang a song and shared a poem he wrote for her when she was a baby.
A friend explained how she missed her large and close-knit family on the East Coast and how Mark and Barbara were the first people in California who made her feel like she had a family here.
A neighbor recounted years ago how Mark was walking by and offered a hand to install a bay window.
Another neighbor of 40 years, read off a paper napkin, “You fought the fight, you finished the race, you kept the faith.”
Barbara joked that Mark would have loved being at the party, but would not have been OK with the fact that it was to honor of him.
I left the beautiful memorial with a lingering thought.
Isn’t it ironic how the people who give so much, yet avoid the limelight, are the ones whose lives continue to radiate the brightest and the longest after they die.