I do not enjoy attending funerals. And yet, I frequently come away from a funeral feeling peaceful and uplifted, in a subdued sort of way. A well-celebrated funeral puts me in touch with humanity, and reminds me that each life has a transcendent meaning.
As a funeral I recently attended illustrates, the transcendent meaning of life might be uncovered in something trivial, like cookies.
On the back page of the memorial card for this funeral, there was a recipe for ginger snaps. During the eulogy, we learned that this was not a standard recipe for ginger snaps. The daughter of the deceased told us that one time her mother added too much flour resulting in a snappier cookie. Since she liked the cookies that way, she continued to make them with extra flour, and the cookies became a family favorite. As her daughter spoke about her mother’s love for her family, which, in typical Italian fashion, often manifested itself in platters of food at family gatherings, I could picture multiple generations of her family enjoying the crunchy cookie.
Usually memorial cards end up in my blue box, but this one found its way into my black binder of recipes. I have already made these cookies, and I must say, they are the best ginger snaps ever. Who knows, maybe this recipe will one day be inducted into my family’s cookie hall of fame, joining another cookie recipe – my mother-in-law’s famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.
For two generations, before she passed away some years ago, my mother-in-law made copious batches of her signature cookie. When her six sons were growing up, she would make 12 dozen at a time, and on one occasion, two of her sons polished off almost the entire 12 dozen as the cookies cooled on the counter. While her grandchildren were slightly more restrained, they too relished her chocolate chip cookies as her great grandchildren will in the years to come.
Cookies can never sum up the complexity of a human life, but they may point to a person who lived and loved well. The unique crunch of a ginger snap, and the aroma of chocolate chip cookies cooling on a counter trigger memory and make the person, whose love continues to surround us beyond the grave, present to us once again. Cookies and funerals remind us that our lives are greater than our physical presence in the here and now.
We do not go to enough funerals. Indeed, funerals seem to have fallen out of fashion. This is unfortunate because apart from helping us through the process of loss, funerals give us a glimpse of the totality of human life from birth to death and beyond. In the life of the deceased, we recognize the basic ingredients of all human life, even if our recipe for living differs.
Funerals provide a point of intersection between mortality and transcendence. The lowly cookie, tantalizing the taste buds of successive generations, re-presents a life well lived in love, vanished from our eyes, yet still present in the memory of the heart.
Trail, BC resident, Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com