Being raised in the Northeast as part of a large Irish family, the number of relatives I had always astounded my friends. By relatives, I don’t just mean people that shared my last name or ones that could be plotted out on a family tree. I had a significant amount of closely related relatives. Here’s what I mean, my Mother had one-hundred and thirteen first cousins. Her parents had many brothers and sisters. My Grandmother was one of thirteen and my Grandfather was one of seventeen. My sister and I, in comparison, only had a few first cousins, just eleven.
Overall, our family was huge but we were close, in proximity and in our personal relationships. My relatives held reunions almost yearly and there were several more times during the year we’d all gather, mainly for funerals.
Over the years I began to collect mementos, pieces of funeral stationery, from the funeral services, and there were many. My Grandparents’, as well as their brothers and sisters were reaching their 80s. For what seemed like my entire teenage years, my family seemed to be gathering for nothing but wakes.
Now, as an adult, I have this collection of funeral stationery –basically, a box of family history. From prayer cards to memorial folders and bookmarks, I have it all. But, what’s odd is how much of it looks alike. Sorting through the box recently, I noticed three or four common themes, obviously preprinted, stock paper with a relatives name, birth date, death date, a verse and sometimes the date of the service. These printed pieces of stationery are not personal, they are cookie-cutter designs.
My own Father’s prayer card is among the stack. In 2008, when our funeral director showed us the selection of funeral stationery, my Mother, sister and I, truthfully weren’t thrilled at the selection, but what could we do? We had to have them, so we selected a version with seagulls on the front with the words, “Going Home…” It wasn’t because of my Dad’s fondness for birds, the ocean, or because he considered dying, “Going Home”. It was basically the best of the worst, although we wouldn’t admit it at the time. Had our funeral director given us a larger choice of themes, this one wouldn’t have been looked at twice.
What would my Dad have wanted? Truthfully, he probably wouldn’t have cared. But, my Mother, sister and I cared and wanted to have the most personal funeral and mementos possible. We wanted to celebrate his life. He was unique, he had special interests like coins and history, golf and amateur radio. If only our funeral director had something more personal, my Father’s prayer card wouldn’t be just another piece of paper in the stack.