This past weekend I attended a memorial for a good friend’s sister, who passed away late last year. It seems these days I attend a steady stream of memorials. When I was younger, I didn’t even know what a memorial was but now that I am in Act III of my life, people seem to be leaving at an alarming rate.
One thing that amazes me is how well organized these memorials are. They follow a pattern though. People arrive and give actual kisses or air kisses while remarking on how long it has been since they have seen one another. I simply count the number of walkers and canes among the attendees. (I joined that illustrious group this year with my spiffy new four-wheeled, fire-engine-red walker with built in seat and little basket for do dads.)
Most memorials are catered affairs as was this one I just attended. Fresh flowers were on each table and caterers passed out drinks and hors d’oeuvres. That is the time that general chitchat starts in full force. Some of these people you don’t know or they’ve changed so much since you last saw them that they are like meeting a new person.
Next you and your fellows chitchatters come to attention as the host or close loved one makes some opening remarks. Photos of the deceased person are placed around strategically and their presence is strongly felt. Some overall statements are made about the loved one and their contribution to society. This is an emotional moment for all and rightly so as actually this get together is where you officially say farewell to the honoree. Today’s opening remarks were made my friend about his sister, who was the center of the celebration. He spoke, his partner spoke, his older brother spoke and then a family friend invoked the breaking of the bread—a Jewish tradition at times like this. It was a very nice remembrance and everyone realized how much this person was missed.
Then the caterers do their thing and serve all sorts of excellent food. Today’s was a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. We found a table at which to seat ourselves and then is when the serious chitchat gets started. You either catch up with the doings of people you know or learn a lot about people you are meeting for the first time. It’s really a jolly time with not a scintilla of moroseness.
Then after the meal, the host reconvenes the group and it is now time for the Act III of the memorial to begin. At this stage, everyone is encouraged to tell their favorite story in which the deceased was involved. This can be quite interesting and can provide you with a lot of things possibly to include in your next book or screenplay or short story or play. It is at times like this that I listen with both ears.Each episode a person relates has a beginning, middle and end—and the end is usually an unexpected little piece of mirth. So, it’s an excellent time to pay attention. I generally listen and don’t talk. This is the really interesting part of these memorials and, as I say, it’s the point where a writer should listen attentively. I can’t tell you how much idle chitchat from memorials and other social gatherings I used when writing my two murder mysteries: TEDDY BEAR MURDERS and MURDER IMPOSSIBLE. In mystery writing, you find yourself having a great need for fillers of all sorts—and that’s where idle chitchat you’ve indulged in will come to your rescue.
I mentioned two chat sessions at memorials: the first is when you arrive and the second is while you are eating. That’s where the questions flow nonstop. I have always found that the way to ward off inquiries is to ask other people questions. In other words, you beat them to the punch.
One thing is for sure with new people you meet. They want to know what you do or did for a living. I don’t mind that too much because once I tell them I’m a writer, they begin giving me the third degree. “Are you famous? Have you written anything I would know?” What kind of writing do you do?” That is when I start selling books.
Today I think I sold a dozen copies. I told them to go to my website at www.jackfitzgerald.com and they could find out all about my background in writing plus read my numerous blogs. I try not to be crass in the process or too obvious that I am pushing books. Thank goodness my friend had a copy of several of my books to show people. I’ve learned one thing, though, if you plan on hawking your books you must be quick at it. Make your statements brief but swift and then get on to something else. Playing “moi” is very short lived.
Here is an example of the “something else.” A good friend and his partner whom I only see on rare occasions looked at me and remarked that my face looked younger than when he first met me. He wondered what my secret was. I told him I had a niece who was a dermatologist and I’d have to give her the credit.
One very friendly lady told me that she had wanted to be a writer but it just never happened for her. She wanted to know how it was that I could just sit down and write a book and there it was for someone to buy on www.amazon.com. I told her that the reason most books don’t get written is because people talk about them rather than writing them. I told her I rarely tell anyone that I am writing a book until it’s finished and about to be published. Up until that point, any talk you do about your book and its plot diminishes the energy you have to put into the book itself.
So, my friend’s memorial for his sister was another wonderful get together celebrating the life of a very nice and very missed productive person. We all should be so lucky as to have a memorial when our time comes. But, while you’re still up and about and attending them, keep your ears open. You’ll be surprised at how much food for thought you’ll hear.