Amblin' Alameda: Wake the Dead

Amblin' Alameda: Wake the Dead

Morton Chalfy

We just returned from a memorial service for one of my partner’s dearest friends who was killed in a freak accident at much too young an age (60). The life being celebrated was a rich and varied one as attested by the hundreds of people who attended the gathering. As is usual nowadays a large screen displayed a long loop of photos of the deceased in happier times and many of them brought tears to the eyes of the assembled watchers.

Technically this was a memorial gathering since there was no service and a wake is defined as taking place with the body in the room. But my personal definition of wake was formed in the days of my youth when the object of the gathering was to remember the person with song and story and tears and laughter. People come to these assemblies with sad and mournful faces but the presence of others and the swapping of stories about the departed bring smiles and laughter and tears all at once.

There was food at the event, as there usually is, and wine and punch, and the combination of all these factors with a crowd of people inevitably gives rise to a feeling of being at a party. And that is the definition of wake that I like and that I hope holds true for me when I depart. The warm feelings, the memories, the stories that evoke roars of laughter, the feeling of loss that evokes tears, these all combine to form part of the catharsis of healing that needs to take place after a loss.

People attended this event from hundreds of miles away and decades of past association. People who had gone to grade school with the deceased and people who worked with him on the day he died and people from the fifty years in between were gathered to lend support and sympathy to each other and the bereaved widow and to demonstrate that our lives are lived with, for and about other people. It is not our status or our wealth that is remembered by those who loved us but the people we were, the feelings they had when they were with us and the personal memories we left behind with them. This life was particularly rich in the impact it had had on those who came in contact with it and the gathering gave them all support in their grief.

It was a memorable event missing only the presence of its star, who, sadly, could not attend.