By Mary Noble Garcia

In the spirit of this month when we express gratitude and remember our loved ones, both those who have gone before us and those who are still with us, I share this story.

The best gifts are often those that are unexpected. This one arrived in its infancy, unannounced on my doorstep.  My parents who were in their late seventies were visiting us.  We had just returned from a day of music and dance at Irish Fair when my dad made a passing comment.

“I would like to have an Irish wake.”

“What would that look like for you, Dad?”

“A celebration of life with food, drink, and music.”

“We can certainly do that. Can you tell me more?”

“I want all of the family to be there, and well, I want to be there, too—I don’t want to miss the party!

Two years later my dad’s wish was granted, and both he and my mom were present for our celebration of their lives.  Traditionally in Ireland when a person died the family held vigil over them in their home until their burial.  The wake was a celebration of their life the night before the funeral, ensuring that they had a good send-off.

Twenty-six of us gathered in the living room with its high ceilings and tall windows. My parents sat in wingback chairs in front of the fireplace as the warmth from the glowing embers chased away the chill of the day.  They offered their unwavering attention, their eyes focused on each child and grandchild as they listened to twenty-four eulogies that wove a beautiful tapestry of stories—a daughter who learned about integrity in the workplace from her dad who had also been her boss; grandchildren who learned family recipes baking bread and pastries with Grandma; a son who spoke of Dad as one who never met a stranger; a son-in-law who recognized that if my parents had not welcomed him so warmly as an uninvited guest to a family celebration he would not have married their daughter; a daughter who learned to notice nature’s beauty from Mom who watched the fall trees change color from the kitchen window and Dad who captured that beauty in his photographs; and many more stories of faith-filled, generous, loving lives.  We topped off the day with a beautiful Irish meal, music, and dancing.

The gift which had arrived unannounced at my doorstep transformed into a graced gathering of gratitude and remembering.  It was an Irish wake in the truest sense—we celebrated my parents’ lives, blessed them, held vigil over them, and gave them a start toward a grace-filled send-off by honoring and affirming their loving presence in the world.