No one looks forward to going to a memorial service, let alone, two in one weekend. But my husband and I didn't want to miss either of these.
The first was for a long-time family friend. For 50 years or so, Dave and his wife shared their lives with my husband's parents. As couples, they raised their children together, traveled the world and watched their grandchildren grow up.
I'd heard countless stories of the memories that made the two families seem as one. Blood, they say, is thicker than water. But friendship can be the life raft that keeps us afloat.
The second service, two days later, was for a young woman who wasn't so young anymore, but will always be young to me. Trish was a teenager when we met. I was in my 20s, a new mother and a youth leader in our church, when she asked if we could be "prayer partners."
For the next two years, she came over once a week and we would talk (as best we could with my kids climbing on us) about everything and nothing. Between visits, we prayed for each other. The visits were great, but it was the prayers, I think, that bound us together.
One thing I am sure of: I learned far more from Trish than she did from me. Then she went off to college, married her childhood sweetheart, had three babies and lived a beautiful life.
We kept in touch by email. Three years ago, she wrote to tell me she had breast cancer, and reminded me that we were still "prayer partners."
Her treatment went well. She went on with her life. Then last week I learned the cancer had come back and she was gone.
The story of our lives is always a mystery, isn't it? What will happen next? How will it end? What will people say about us at our memorial service?
The services we attended this weekend celebrated lives that were lived well by two people of great faith, who loved their families and friends, and made a difference in their communities.
One life was long; the other ended too soon. But both changed their worlds, left their marks on those who loved them. And both will surely be missed.
I wish they could've heard all that was said about them. I wish they could have seen the great gathering of family and friends and realized how much they meant -- and will always mean -- to those they left behind.
Who knows? Maybe they did. If Heaven is anything, surely it's a place where we'll get to know beyond all doubt who we are and how much we are loved.
Years ago, I lost my first husband to cancer. People who know that often ask me what's the best advice to offer to someone who is grieving?
The answer is simple. The best advice is no advice at all.
Second best? Take care of yourself, get some rest, and then do what you want to do.
And third (only if you're sure they are ready to hear it): Remember that you're alive.
After my husband died, a very kind friend told me something I have shared countless times:
"The challenge for you now," he wrote, "having lost your loved one, is to live a life that is honoring to his memory, while at the same time, that life moves forward, so that only one person has died, and not two."
Some people get to live longer than others. It's not fair, but there it is. Those who do, I believe, owe it to those who don't, to live well, fully alive.
That's what memorial services are for. We gather to celebrate life. To remember the departed, wrap our arms around their families, hug the necks of old friends and remind ourselves that we are still alive in all our imperfection until it's our turn to live in a new and perfect way.
I'm looking forward to that.
Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.