Chris, Malcolm and I attended a memorial service on Saturday for my cousin David’s wife, Alison Snow Jones.

Alison died instantly of a heart attack, at age 61, in January.  She was a brilliant person with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, a passion for kayaking and cooking, and a gift for writing wittily and clearly about complex topics:

A professor at Drexel University, Alison would bake muffins each Sunday night to take to her students on Monday morning, on the theory that no one should have to learn economics on an empty stomach.

Malcolm and his second cousin, 8 year old Anjali from California, were among the few children present.  The mourners were exactly that:  in mourning.  Even the old people, who have been to too many funerals and seen too many deaths, were not blase about this loss. 

Almost everyone who spoke was emotional, from weeping to sobbing.  I started to wonder if seeing this many adults so broken up would be somehow frightening to the children.

I needn’t have worried.  At the end of the service, Malcolm turned and gave me a heart-felt hug that went on and on.  He had met Alison only once, but later, when he and I talked about the service, it was clear he had absorbed the lessons. 

How important it is to lead a good life, to show love, encouragement and concern to others, to follow your passions and cultivate what makes you happy.   To wait for the right person (Alison and David met and were married in middle age).   To be kind.  To keep your sense of humor even in adversity (Alison cartooned with stick figures through her grueling bout of cancer some years back). 

A harder lesson for the kids was not to procastinate, not to assume that you’ll have that weekend together or make good on those plans to have a museum/brunch date “someday.”   Kids don’t get this because they are constantly communicating with their friends and getting together with each other.   I think it’s hard for them to imagine that this will ever change.   And yet as many adults ruefully attested during the service, there were too many plans that will now never be fulfilled.

Although children were once shielded from memorial services and funerals, that seems not to be so true any more.  And I think that’s a good and sobering thing.

Do you remember the first funeral you went to?  How was the experience for you?
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