This is not a service I recall having seen advertised. Still, I felt compelled to assume the position yesterday at my brother-in-law’s memorial service.

There are obvious reasons why no one would want their picture taken at a funeral:

  • it’s something they’d rather forget
  • their makeup is running and they look like a train wreck
  • taking pictures is disruptive

People were, generally, having a good time, reminiscing, laughing and truly celebrating the life of their friend/loved one. And I was intentionally trying to get candid shots—shots that really captured the experience, while remaining as unobtrusive as possible.

What I found fascinating was that, when people did notice I was taking a picture of them, they would go from smiling and enjoying themselves to trying to look sad. Now, part of this could be that some random guy was taking their picture, but I got the impression that they didn’t like the idea of looking like they were having fun during such a solemn event, like it would somehow have been disrespectful to the deceased.

I can’t speak for the deceased, but I could presume that he would want nothing more than to see people having a great time celebrating his life—I know I would.

I had created a memorial Fan Page on Facebook for him, and was posting the pictures as I took them. It is amazing to see people come out of the woodwork to leave their stories, condolences and memories. And a few people had commented on how nice it was to have these pictures, as they were unable to attend. It’s the most useful Facebook has been all year.

Walking to the car, my wife and I were discussing how sad it was that we couldn’t get together and appreciate each other and recognize each others’ impact on our lives while we’re still alive. How many artists, musicians, poets and writers die penniless, only to achieve tremendous post-humous success? I guess humans need a huge slap in the face to notice pretty much anything.

I’m no exception. Walking around the service, observing all the people that loved this man, looking at the photos, videos, excerpts from his writings posted on the walls, I was reminded how I had neglected to read something he had sent months before—just tossed it aside. If I could find it, I’d read it now. Do I even deserve to?—now that it’s “legacy”?

During my last conversation with him, he had been talking about writing his life story. My wife and I were thinking “booooring.” After his sudden passing last week, I joked, “Great. Does this mean I have to tell his boring story now?”

After seeing all of these people whose lives he had touched over the years, I realized that his story was interesting. It’s just that, from what I could tell, no one acknowledged it until after he was gone.

It makes sense that death would bring us together. Other than birth, death is our only recognized experiential common denominator. Perhaps there are more. Perhaps it’s worth looking a little deeper into the lives of those around you. Perhaps it’s worth looking a little deeper into your own story, maybe even sharing—just a little bit of it—now.

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