Celebrating the life of a man I’ve never met

Here's the boy that I remember. What an amazing man he'd become!

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a man I’ve never met. I never had the pleasure to know his brilliance, his love of music and his passion towards friends and family. However, halfway through the service, I had a pretty clear picture of who he was.

I’ve been to lots of funerals and while I realize that they’re for the living and not the dead, I’ve always been a big believer that the event should stay true to the basic essence of the person. I believe that the service should be a reflection of who the person was and their beliefs.

Unfortunately, that’s not what often happens. Family often steps in and all-of a sudden the agnostic person is being honored with a religious service that doesn’t speak to their beliefs. And, they get to dictate how an entire roomful of people remember their loved one.

I’ve sat through a number of funerals where I’ve paused mid-sob to try and figure out who the clergy (and sometimes speakers) are talking about. It’s an interesting phenomenon-recently deceased people seem to get taller, nicer and more charming. In their lifetimes, they were a little more perfect and polished than I seem to recall.

At yesterday’s service, I had no recollection of the man who had passed away. I knew him, once upon a time, as a child who was almost a decade younger than me; almost a lifetime in child years. But, I never had the honor to know him as an adult.

Despite the lengthy oratory of the minister, it was a lovely, moving service. Family and friends went out of the way to honor his life and paint a realistic picture of him. There were dozens of photos displayed to give one a sense of his personality; his love of life and sense of humor. It’s the first funeral I’ve ever attended that I got a true sense of who someone was and what he meant to those around him.

He was a loyal son, brother and friend. He was incredibly intelligent and often viewed as brilliant. He had an uncanny sense of humor and quick wit. His love of music and desire to live life to the fullest enriched the lives of others.

As I viewed the pictures and listened to the stories around me, I had a chance to see and appreciate the man that he had become. He was a doer and giver. While he died too young, he had a full life. And, it struck me that he was much like his father (who passed away in my 20’s) and this warmed my heart.

His family and friends were able to truly celebrate him and turn the service into a true depiction of him. They honored him in a way that he would have chosen; it turned the grief that everyone felt, into feelings of warm remembrance and camaraderie. And, they truly celebrated his life.

Endnote: Justin Jay passed away in San Diego, CA on January 9, 2011. Our parents were best friends when we were children in Peoria, IL. It’s safe to say he has a solid place in heaven.

About debcb

All Deb wanted to do was work, until she had Rosie. For the past decade, she's juggled a full-time career, high-profile volunteer work and mommyhood.


  1. What a wonderful, touching tribute Deb.

    Wish I could have been there holding your hand.

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