I attended two memorial services over the weekend. Jim, a friend from church, died after a long illness, and my high school friend’s mother, Marilyn, passed unexpectedly. Both of these beloved people were past 80, although their lengthy lives don’t alter the grief of their family and friends. As I connected with old friends, church members, and family members of those who had passed, we shared stories about our loved ones. We laughed at old tales from our childhood, joked about church politics, teased one another about graying hair or faulty knee joints.

As the sharing went on, our memories of Julie’s mom, of Jim’s decades-long commitment to the church, gave way to queries about each others’ kids: had they started college visits? who was anxious about the ACT? which parents would be delighting in their empty nest, and which would be caught off guard by sorrow? We provided updates about our own aging parents, fussed over Jim’s widow and children. We pencilled in coffee dates that were long overdue. We updated cell numbers and email addresses, traded names of tutors for reliable referrals to orthodontists. Even in the midst of our breaking hearts, we couldn’t resist attending to the daily tasks of living. As we wept, we were aware of the breath catching in the person beside us, could hear the signs of the mourner behind us. I realized that, as much as I tried to wrap my mind around the reality that I would not share space again with Jim or Marilyn in this incarnation, my heart was filled with love for the people around me, my mind with plans for the future. I was aware of a knee-jerk guilt for not mourning “more” for the souls who wouldn’t be here for the next holiday, the missed hugs and family portraits. But equally present was the sense that, even in grief, our instinct needn’t be to STOP living, but to look FORWARD. Despite the holes in our hearts, the space our loved one’s one leave that will be forever gaping in our lives, we can choose to move ahead, to embrace one another, to honor those who are gone by loving and living with all that we have. Perhaps that’s the truest, most honest memorial of them all.