A Living Eulogy to my Sister.

“How often have you regretted NOT telling or showing a person how much they meant to you?

Maybe you felt too shy and awkward or the moment never naturally arose. Maybe you felt the person you wanted to share your feelings with wasn’t open to receiving them. And then they’re gone, sometimes out of your life forever. Now instead of telling them directly, you tell the people who have gathered at their funeral.

In contrast to a more typical funeral speech, a living eulogy celebrates our special people while they are with us. It is a powerful, life-affirming gift.”

The above is an excerpt from  https://www.write-out-loud.com/living-eulogy.html

On a Friday morning, September 7th 2012, I was on my daily phone call with my mom. We talked for a very long time. Little did I know it was the last time I’d have such a lengthy talk with her. She was sad and extremely stressed because of issues she was facing with her step sons. Despite the fact that wasn’t sick or anything, it was weird that we were talking about death and funerals.she said to me, “When I die, I don’t want a copious number of people standing up at my funeral and talking about me. If anyone has anything to say about me, they’d rather tell it to me now while I can hear them. And please, don’t go out and buy me expensive clothing to bury me in. Now is the the time to buy me clothes when I can wear them” 

After our chat that morning, I went on with my daily activities, but I was pondering my conversation with Mom. I planned to call her again before the evening, just to share with (and sin to her Psalm 23,) The Lords my Shepherd, No want shall I Know” but I got so  busy and that evening I thought, “Oh, I’ll call her tomorrow anyways and can share that with her then.” 

At around 8pm that night I received a call from my niece. My mother was in hospital. She’d had a heart attack. 

I should have called her! I really hope she makes it, if only for me to sing her Psalms 23.

I spoke to my eldest sister Salome who was at the hospital with my mom and told her, “The moment mom opens her eyes, please read Psalm 23 for her from me.” She said she would. 

The next morning, I called my other sister and caught her just as she was leaving hospital. It was last visiting hours but I told her to beg the hospital staff to let her in for just a minute so I could speak to my mom. They let her in and I spoke to my mom and quickly summarized Psalm 23. I couldn’t read the whole of it, or sing it to her like I had planned to, but at least I talked to her fo a quick minute.  I told her I would be traveling later to go and see her. 

About an hour after the call, I received a text from my brother “I wanted to let you know that Our mother has put a Full Stop in her life.” I smiled at the choice of words. I had never heard death described like that. My Mom had lived a full and fulfilling life. At the time of her death She had  8 children, 26 grandchildren.

Her death, and our conversation got me thinking. Why is it that most often, we wait till our loved ones are dead, and then we want to tell others (at the funeral) how much we loved them, and how sweet they were and how much we miss them. Why is it that your boss will find it difficult to give you time to go visit your mom “just because”, but when she dies, the same boss says, “take all the time you need.”  Ofcourse I’m not advocating for people to take time off work “just because” bug you get the point I’m making.

Anyway, a few years passed and in 2017, I started looking up “living eulogies”. I decided to throw my sister a “living funeral”. I coordinated with my niece and we invited her old friends that she hadn’t see in decades. We invited her old students (she was a teacher and a high school, principal in her later years) It was a surprise. She didn’t even know I was flying from RSA. When she arrived at the venue and saw all the people, her old friends from the early 70s, she was blown away. We had a bunch of people lined up with speeches. She cried, she laughed. She then cried again and laughed again. By the end of the day, she was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude to all the friends and family who attended her “living funeral”. We even had a pamphlet like the one they make for your funeral with all her achievements, children etc. 

I had also asked as many people as I could, to send me quotes about the best (or worst) things they remember about her. We compiled it into a book which we gave to her and she could read at her own time. 

When we planned it, I wasn’t sure how everyone would take it. Especially with all the taboo surrounding death and funeral. One of my nieces had actually sent me an email about 2 months before the event to tell me whe wasn’t comfortable with the idea. “What if Mom actually dies before the day?” Miraculously, her email went into my junk folder, and I only saw it many months after the event. 

Moral of the story: Don’t wait till your loved one dies to smother her with praise, thanksgiving and gifts. Do it now, and when he/she dies, you won’t wish you had said this, or done that for her. 

Foot Note: My sister, Salome Riungu has been a mom to me since I was one and a half years old. I moved in to live with her when she had her first daughter, Liza Karimi. I’m told that my parents let me move in with her so I could keep Liza company (after all my parents had 14 other kids already…between my dad and his two wives, so my niece needed more company, I’m told.¡) 

I have NEVER seen my sister so happy!

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