Celebrating a life well lived: Random thoughts

Family and friends gathered in Idaho this weekend to celebrate a life well lived: Mom-in-law Ivalene, who died of complications due to pancreatic cancer.


Jack and Ivalene Johnson, 1946


Since yesterday’s Celebration of Life service, a few random thoughts have been swirling in my brain:

Random thought #1 — about people

There were the usual suspects at mom-in-law’s service — you know, the kind who love you unconditionally, who would do anything for you, who keep in touch and worry over you when you take road trips alone. Those kind of people.

There were others I hadn’t seen in several years, and the interesting thing was, we picked up right where we left off.

And then there were long-time family friends whose names I’d always heard, but had never met—the kind of people who, after meeting them for the first time, you feel as if you’ve known them for years.

My life is richer from connecting once again with the usual suspects, with renewed acquaintances, with new friends.

People always trump things.

Random thought #2 — about laughter 

Laughter at the memorial of a loved one? Is that appropriate? Why, yes, it is.

I realize there are different kinds of death — the deeply sorrowful kind where the loved one has died too suddenly, too young, too tragically, too painfully, leaving too many broken-hearts behind. Laughter doesn’t naturally bubble up to the surface after such a death.

And then there’s the kind, as in mom-in-law’s case, where the loved one has lived a good full life, and look at how many people she loved and influenced and taught and nurtured. Which means there was abundant laughter at her service during the sharing of memories, and afterward around the dinner tables. And it was quite natural.

And quite appropriate.

Random thought #3 — about things

We’ve all heard the time-worn saying about how no one ever saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer, right?

Given that we can’t take anything with us, this question, posed by my nephew, Stan: What are we leaving behind?

Are we leaving mostly stuff? Or are we leaving influenced lives and positive memories?

Mom-in-law left an amazing legacy as mother, grandma, great-grandma, great-great-grandma, aunt and teacher: a legacy of influencing people with her no-nonsense toughness, her never giving up on anyone (some might call it stubbornness), and her fierce protective love.

I suspect mom-in-law had a front row seat in heaven—alongside husband, Jack, and son, Gary, who you all know as my Hubby—to her commemorative service. And although she wouldn’t have wanted a big fuss (her words), I suspect she was delighted at who gathered.

And I suspect she threw her head back and laughed her delightful contagious laughter as stories were told, and a video of her life was viewed while some in the audience dabbed at their eyes, and good food was shared, and toddlers were corralled, and teens stepped outside to shoot a few hoops, and when finally everyone got up to leave because the janitor needed to clean, hugs were dispensed — all in honor of a life well lived.

Which begs the question: How ought we to live the remaining days of our lives?

P.S. If you found this post helpful or encouraging, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. sally slick

    And that, my friend, is a very good question and needs pondering…. Thanks for another wonderful blog!

  2. Kathi

    Marlys – Thank you for another wonderful, fresh way of looking at the demise of a loved one. Your view of things is always so refreshing and comforting. It is always so respectful and with deep thought to the individual loved one and their personality. Great post and very comforting. Thank you.

  3. Wendy Archer

    My condolescences at the loss of your mother-in-law, who from your words seemed like a wonderful lady, well-loved and will be missed. Your post reminds me that it is important to fill the time between birth and death with as many positive experiences as I can, and to help as many people along the way as I can. To bring smiles, comfort and happiness to people is surely one of the best legacies to leave behind? Thank you for reminding me to share the blessings xx

    • Well said: “To fill the time between birth and death with as many positive experiences as I can, and to help as many people along the way as I can.” Wise words, Wendy.

  4. Lonnie

    Wonderfully written Marlys.

  5. Marlys, as a writer, you are leaving the legacy of inspiration, encouragement, hope, and laughter. You uplift us every day. You bring us depth, even in loss. You make me feel like there’s nothing I can lose that will take my joy away. Here is the Spirit of Christ & His presence.

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