I was at a memorial yesterday (goodbye, dear Jacqui), watching projected photos of my friend’s life, and listening to stories about her. We laughed a lot and felt our hearts crack open, as each of the speakers described Jacqui in all her specialness. And I was struck by the effortlessness with which each of us can craft a powerful story when it really matters.
Most people started their speech in the simplest and time-honoured manner, introducing themselves, and their relationship to Jacqui. Then they listed the qualities in Jacqui that had meant a lot to them with funny and poignant stories to illustrate these characteristics. And then they summed it all up and said farewell to her. Each speaker added a little to the whole picture of Jacqui and the various sides of her – mother, colleague, daughter, sister, friend – and filled in blanks for those of us who, like me, had not seen her for a while.
What fuels such creativity? What makes it possible for any of us to stand before an audience of 400 or more people, and move them to laugh and cry? In part, it is a receptive audience, for sure. At such moments, our hearts are open. We recognise the limitations of words to capture the essence of another person and we are grateful for anyone who is willing to give it a try.
And yet I think we still have clear expectations, too, as participants. We are not open to anything. If a speaker had talked about themselves, or spoken angrily or with blame, most of us would have felt very uncomfortable. In other words, the expectations of speakers at a memorial are clear. The topic is set. The parameters are definite. Even the format, or structure, of the speech, is hard to break.
And yet there was an even more powerful force guiding each speaker: Jacqui herself. It is palpable when listening to eulogies that they are spoken to the only person who is not, and cannot, be there. And who cannot respond? Each speaker was exquisitely aware of what Jacqui might think or feel about what they said, and her vulnerability in not being there to refute a word of it. And because they cared for Jacqui, they used her vivid presence in their head and heart to guide their words.
I won’t say more. I’m guided by my own understanding of Jacqui to believe she would be happy with everything I have written so far, while my heart tells me to stop here, and let you draw from it what you will.
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