celebration of life

A Celebration and a Camel

At the beginning of September, a woman named Norma, who went to my church, passed away suddenly. She was the mother of some of my mom’s closest church friends, whom we’d all grown to know over the years, and who, for a long time, was part of our row.

Most Sundays, when we were all in town, one row of the church parking lot was taken up me, my mom, my sister, Norma, and her two daughters, Renee and Rochelle. We then sat together in a row of chairs during service, and afterward we all hugged, updated each other on the recent happenings, and then wished each other well for the upcoming week.

This past weekend, I, along with my mom and sister, attended the celebration of life service for Norma that was hosted at our church. The three of us were asked to help out with food and we were both happy and honored to do so. We arrived a few hours early and promptly took our places putting together finger sandwiches, preparing charcuterie boards and fruit and veggie platters, and sorting and organizing the ridiculously delicious Porto’s bakery pastries. We, alongside a few other wonderful women, worked hard, wanting to make the reception of the service as easy and fulfilling as possible. We wanted the family and friends in attendance to be able to sit down, eat, talk, laugh and reminisce without having to worry about a thing.

At 4:00 p.m., the service ended and the attendees began to move into the banquet hall, some emotional, some talkative, some admittingly starving. The line formed and then it kept coming, and we watched as people filled their plates and sat down together, making the room loud and happy.  Laughter and stories echoed off the walls, making it impossible to decide who to eavesdrop on. People hugged and hung on each other; hands were taken and smiles were given over shoulders; compliments were handed out for outfits, shoes, hats, and makeup; pictures were taken and desserts were passed around.

I stood in the kitchen, along with my fellow ladies, both keeping an eye on the buffet table to see what might need to be refilled, and looking out at the family who so clearly were celebrating Norma’s life.

Not being related to Norma myself, and only really seeing her on Sunday’s, I knew my knowledge of her was few. And yet there were so many faces, glances and expressions, hints of her that I saw around the room in her family and friends. It made me wonder what things they were thinking about, what stories they felt they had to share with the people around them, and what memories they were holding on to that, to them, were who Norma was.

In the decorations around the room, I saw pictures, trinkets and mementos. I saw Norma’s favorite candies and her collection of Precious Moments figurines. She existed so purely in the room, and in the hearts of everyone who came to remember her, that by the end of the night, I felt like I’d met her all over again, and gotten to know her deeper than I ever would have.

I watched as her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren loved on each other, how they made each other laugh, drove each other crazy and gave each other purpose, and I thought, isn’t it amazing how one person can bring this many people, this many hearts, this many worlds into one room to be together, and to celebrate life. And it made me feel grateful to Norma, for reminding me how much love exists in the world to find, and how much love has already found me.

At the end of the night, I, alongside anyone else who wanted to, got to take home one of Norma’s Precious moments collectibles. I chose a little figurine of a camel. When I got home, I put the little guy on a shelf in my room, next to my own collection of sand that I have stored in glass bottles. Looking at them side by side, it’s as if they’d always belonged together. And even though I never got to know Norma for all of her colors, or in the way that her family did, I feel special knowing that I’ll always have a little piece of her, and thus a little bit of that love she created, here with me.