How (and Why) To Have A Funeral

“If a man tried to take his time on earth/ And prove before he died what one man’s life could be worth/I wonder what would happen to this world.” — Harry Chapin

Holly Hassett was eulogized today and I don’t think I have ever seen so many people at a service before for someone who wasn’t a public figure or believed to be. Twenty-plus years ago, I did a funeral for a girl who was known throughout the community as “one of those people everybody knew” and when she was tragically killed, everyone in town came out to grieve and remember as a community.

Holly’s service was different.  There were nearly as many people, but we all seemed to be there for individual reasons. There was a main room which was huge. There was a side room that was as big, and then there was standing room only on the second floor — so much so that the pews were full, the stairs next to the pews were full, they brought in chairs and people still stood for the entire hour-and-a-half service.

There were seven or eight speakers each with a different touching story about the Holly that they knew. No one overlapped, telling the same story twice.  Each person told some story that only they knew about her.  At the beginning there was music by someone who knew her. At the end, there was music that she would have liked, played by people who liked her as well.


Holly apparently lived multiple lives in her short one, because she put so much into her life, and changed people forever.  She had multiple Master’s Degrees, She told stories and was a music therapist, She was a quilter and she built a labyrinth. She was a therapist and and an administrator. Then, she was a wife, mother, step- mother and the list went on. People like this come around only once in a lifetime, pretty much, and they skew the statistics in the right way.  A friend of mine said after the funeral, “She was a good person. There are lots of good people. I have to remember that.”  This reminded me of all the clients I have whose lives have skewed the statistics the other way.  For every one of them, there are ten “normal” people who didn’t get raped or beaten or addicted.  For every one of Holly, there were a hundred people who never had to care about the mentally ill or the religious or the struggling.  And now, for every one of Holly, there are five or ten knitters, quilters, musicians and healed people left in the world.  

The other side of a memorial service, of course, is (despite the attempt to remember the good things) the grieving that needed to be done by all those people.  My heart hurt due to the overwhelming sense of loss in the room. All those connections meant all those losses, and I found myself thinking that it was cruel of Holly to have opened up so many of us to whatever gift she (and we, because of her) had. It was a horrible trick to play on that many people to get vulnerable and open so we could get that hurt.  And yet, there is something within us that calls to make those connections, so that we can grow to our fullest potentials, something which leaves us knowing we are better for the trip — Something that knows more than we do before we start this life. Holly has gone to be with that Something.

Despite Holly’s size in life (she was small), she apparently was BIG — HUGE even — in showing the spirit to others. To remove that much of that many people seemed cruel.  But now, as I think of it, we took/gave that much from her, In any case, there is a giant whole in The Force — the giant thing that connects each of us to each other because of her loss because of her death.

Religious services are marked by reminders of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are literally “in-Spirited” when we are inspired by someone. With as much inspiration as Holly apparently gave to the world, that’s a lot of Spirit to take with her when she passed. It is also a lot  of Spirit she left here for us to remember her by, a spirit that lives within each of the people who were there. It’s no longer in a small but densely-packed life, though. It’s in a wide-ranging community of people who loved her.

That’s the best we can do, any of us,and Holly lived up to it.  Blessings to her, wherever she is.  That much warmth, silliness, nurturing, inspiration and caring deserved everything her funeral was. If ever there was a reason to have a funeral/memorial service, she was it.





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