Photo by Susan J. Tweit
I’ve gone to several visitations and memorial services with my father this past year since I’ve moved back to the Midwest. Recently, we lost one of my cousins in a rather haunting death. In thinking ahead to her memorial day at the cemetery, we began discussing the purpose of these gatherings. Pop says the purpose of a funeral is:
1) To gather the remnants of the family together.
2) To share memories of the person who has just died.
3) To plan out any future relationships among family members if there are going to be any.
This last reason was a revelation to me. It’s obvious, but not usually stated or attended to. In these days of families scattered to the four winds of the world, it seems particularly important.
With the third reason in mind, Pop called Cathe’s twin to invite the family to our home place after the memorial graveside service in Upper Alton and before the picnic in St. Louis’ Forest Park at the end of the day. “I had to gather up my courage,” he told me afterwards as we sat at the kitchen table. “I didn’t know how they’d respond.”
“Isn’t courage that which you are made of,” I asked him rhetorically?
The homeplace, standing here since the 1860s, has been a place of refuge through six generations. The older generation of Christoes had adopted Evergreen Heights as their home away from home when my father lived here as a boy and young man. When he became a wise old man, Cathe visited my father here and worked with him on genealogy and family research. My father has a strong sense of legacy, heritage, and continuity. He wanted to offer a peaceful place for the funeral party to pace their day and contribute to their healing. “We made their day better. We made their lives better,” he said as we chatted later.
Thus it was that upwards of 30 people flowed into and around the Big Brown House on the bluffs above the flooded Mississippi River…sipped tea, toured the basements and porches, and played tag on the wide lawn…with no funeral byers in sight.