Someone at your memorial will speak the facts. They’ll say you were born then and died now, describe the work you spent your life doing, mention the people you loved who are still alive and the ones who died before you. Everyone in the room will already know those things, but they’ll expect someone to say it all anyway. It’s a declaration that yes, you did live and now it’s all right to say what they remember about you while the memories are as strong as they’ll ever be.
When my people memorialize our dead, first we tell the facts and then we tell the stories, which are far finer than mere truth. We don’t exactly lie. The events really did happen, but a little creative plumping is expected. If the deceased were allowed to attend, he might feel embarrassed, but he’d probably sew on a couple of his own embellishments. Bigger stories make better memories, and this is the time we want the best memories we can get.
After my uncle’s memorial yesterday, my sister lamented that she’d forgotten a story about him until after we had left. My people particularly like stories about what sort of child a person was. It’s as if we think childhood tales show our real selves before life lowers curtains of artifice around us. My sister and I have heard this particular story dozens of times from my mother.
When my uncle was seven years old and my mother was five he took her to the department store to see Santa Claus. It was a different world then, and no one worried about these children tracking down some holiday fun by themselves. At the store they joined the long, long line to see the jolly elf, whom they referred to as “Santy Claus.” The line moved slowly. My uncle, a vocal boy, expressed impatience, especially towards the heavy-set woman just in front of them.
After some length of time that my mother never detailed, my uncle lost patience with the inconvenient facts of his situation. He kicked the woman right in the middle of her backside and said, “Get the hell out of my way, fat lady, I’ve got to go see Santy Claus!”
My mother never described quite what happened next, but we were always laughing too hard for it to matter much.
Now my uncle is gone, my mother’s gone, and certainly the fat lady and Santy Claus are gone as well. But we still have this story that we can share to explain who my people were and how we got this way.