We had a wonderful memorial service on Saturday for my father. I know that could be seen as an odd statement, but I cannot tell you how pleased I was with the way things went. My sister and I wrote up our thoughts and the minister read them out loud, various relatives and friends shared their memories, and the minister told stories about my father, who was also his friend. We cried, yes, but we also laughed many times, and I believe my father would have been pleased with his send-off.
My father had six years to consider his death. He gave a lot of thought to funerals and what he did and did not want at his. He consulted with his wife and children and considered our wishes too. He ultimately decided that he didn’t want a traditional service with doleful hymns and somber prayers. He lived 65 years and those were years that should be celebrated.
At the front of the chapel was a table on which there were two photos of my father and some items that represented different aspects of his life. What was most noticeable was the slightly battered old toolbox in the middle. It first belonged to my father’s grandfather and then it was my father’s. He took it with him everywhere — if he wasn’t using it at that moment, it was not too far away in the house and when he went places, the old toolbox went in the back of the car, just in case.
And that old toolbox was brought out for many “just in case” moments. In one memorable day, he visited some people who knew and noticed that their dishwasher wasn’t working properly, so he fixed it right then and there. After that, my parents went off to visit someone else and I’ll be damned if that household didn’t have the very same dishwasher issue that my father had just fixed a few hours earlier. So the old toolbox came out again that day.
When my stepmother was making arrangements with the funeral home last week, she was shown a selection of urns and other containers for holding my father’s ashes. Nothing seemed quite right to her, so she went home and started looking around the house. As she was wandering around, her eyes landed on the old toolbox, which had been used less and less in recent months as my father’s health declined and he spent more time confined to his bed. Cancer took away his strength and dexterity until he had neither at all. At that moment, she knew she’d found the perfect container, one that couldn’t possibly be better suited.
So while the old toolbox’s owner is gone, the toolbox is not going to sit unused in a corner. It will serve a new function, albeit one for which it was not intended originally but one for which it will be just right. We all know my father would be pleased with this — just as he’d have been pleased with his funeral. He got the service he wanted, although it wasn’t the traditional one that folks might have expected.
The lesson that I take from this is that we all can choose to follow the path before us or we can choose to create one that is better suited to our needs. This goes beyond planning a more personal funeral or keeping a loved one’s ashes in a beloved old toolbox. When something new in life is presented to you, think about if that’s what you really want or if there is another way that works for you.
Choose your own toolbox.