A Memorial Celebration for My Father
by Shannon Quinn-Schneck
When my father recently passed away unexpectedly, my mother was in no way ready to have a traditional funeral, and I suppose, neither were we. They had long-before decided to each be cremated, which allowed us some time to get an appropriate urn for his ashes, and caused us a great deal of silly, nervous laughter, as we tried to find the “just-right” urn for him.
We knew what he wouldn’t want. Nothing fancy, for sure, but when it came to the cremation container, we were down at the low end; a pine box or a cardboard box. The difference was about $400, but as simple as he would have wanted it to be, I could not bring myself to vote for the cardboard box. We laughed and all agreed, --we wouldn’t put him in cardboard. (Not that there was anything wrong with it!)
Mom decided that we would have a Celebration of his life over the summer, when family and friends could more easily get time off from work, and possibly even plan a vacation around that time as well.
And about 5 months later, we rented a beautiful room with wonderful natural light windows overlooking a small man-made lake. People had made the time in their busy lives to be with us.
The Eulogy was inspired by my son, who had mentioned, “You know, I really don’t know that much about Papa’s life.” I realized that many, especially those that had me him in his later years, also did not know these aspects of him. There were a lot of stories to tell.
We had gathered pictures, and had thought that someone in the family with the technological know-how would put them together in a video photo collage, as I had seen at several other memorial services; The new, cutting edge in memorial and funeral services. However, there was no one who could put the photos together, so we bought tri-fold poster board, some nice colored paper, and created theme-based photo collages, with a few captions.
We had 5 tables with the collage displays. One of Dad, mostly photos of just himself, or as a boy with his parents or brother and sister. There was a photo of him standing in front of a large bush in front of his grandmother’s home in South Dakota. He must have been about 8 or 9. When he and my mother had traveled across the country when he was in his late 60s, they had stopped in the small South Dakota town, and he stood in front of that same bush, mirroring the same stance as his 9-year-old self.
There was a display of Dad and Mom together. From the time they first met in college, through their 50th and 60th anniversary celebrations. It was the story of their Love and romance.
Another display was of his years as an actor, both in NY and Summer Stock in Massachusetts, and in Los Angeles, and many of the production shots also included Mom, as they were both in many of the productions together.
Another display was of Dad, the family man. Family vacations, and pictures with all of us being together--my brother, and or, myself, and mom; Grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins. Later years included grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The last display had Dad, and often Mom, with friends. These were photos with my folks in their social circles. Many were from times that were after my brother and I were grown up and on our own.
Life went on for them, in full swing.
Additional related photos that were not included in each of the collages were spread on the tables below the displays.
The guests gathered and mingled at the display tables. At each table, people began to interact, and to share their own memories. The guests introduced themselves, and shared their memories, explaining their connection to Dad, and the family. Sometimes they were even surprised to realize they had met at one time or other a long time ago...
He was a very deep and spiritual man, which many only knew by his wise and peaceful presence. I was able to share much of “the back-story” of his life and who he was.
The photos illustrated those times and stories too…Dad holding the gold painted plaster “Oscar” that his friends had given him when “An American in Paris” won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1951! (He had several important bit parts in the movie, but most memorable, the opening scene when the camera pans into a window of a Paris flat, to watch the young “honeymoon couple” in a passionate embrace. The “Oscar” later fell off the shelf during an earthquake and broke!)
My brother shared a beautiful, moving song that he had written. My son performed the medley of Louis Armstrong song’s song, “A Beautiful World” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (as conceived and made popular by the Hawaiian singer IZ,) ending the celebration on a positive, upbeat note.
We all felt uplifted, and comforted being together. It was exactly what Dad would have wanted. We all had a great time, and my thought is … he did too.