A few years ago, my Dad died suddenly. He lived in a tiny, remote astronomy community in rural Arizona, where the skies are dark and the stars are bright. My brother and sister and I flew in from opposite corners of the country and were immediately faced with a million decisions.
If you’ve ever had to settle the affairs of a loved one who has passed, you know what I mean: there were funeral arrangements to make, people to inform, family accommodations to arrange, financial and legal affairs to settle, the house to sort through… and all of this while you’re dealing with your own emotional state and that of everyone else around you.
Talk about a pressure cooker for testing our consultation skills! Somehow the three of us managed to get through it all. There were definitely bumps in the road but, for the most part, we kept talking things through until we came to a consensus. Sometimes it took longer and sometimes we needed a cool down period, but we were generally able to come to an agreement on the issues at hand. It certainly helped to focus on what Dad would want; it kept us in that mode of being of service, rather than wrangling for our own opinions.
One decision we made actually turned out to be the wrong one. We’d opted to just hold a small graveside service for the family and then have a community gathering/potluck later. One or two of us may have had some misgivings, but we’d all agreed, so that’s what we set out to do.
It turns out we really didn’t understand the culture of this tiny community of 150 people. Being so remote (the nearest grocery store is 60 miles away), everyone has to rely on each other. Not all the astronomers live there year-round, so when they leave, neighbors take their remaining garbage to the truck that comes once a week. They organize their own volunteer fire and rescue team and everyone participates in the drills. If someone needs something, neighbors show up to help. They all get together regularly for potlucks, especially during the holidays when both the tavern and the café shut down for the season.
And when someone dies, everyone is affected.
We arrived at the cemetery for what we thought would be a quiet graveside service… and the whole town showed up. People kept streaming in from all over.
We’d planned a short program; Baha’i burials are very simple—there’s just one prayer required and then the rest is up to the people involved. So we said the Prayer for the Departed and opened it up for people to share whatever was in their hearts.
What they shared was stories—story after story of Dad’s kindness, his friendliness, his willingness to help, his quiet habit of driving around just to keep an eye on things, his gentleness, his gentlemanliness… and yes, his standard order for dinner at the tavern. (Dad was a man of simple wants and when he found something he liked, he stuck to it.)
It was beautiful, touching, tearful, tender and funny… a day I will never forget.
We’d made one decision, but ended up with something entirely different. For me, it was a powerful reminder of how—when you work in unity—your work is guided and even your missteps are corrected with grace and ease.