Best Stories Of the North Country Are Its Human Ones

Rande Richardson

“I am bound to them, though I cannot look into their eyes or hear their voices. I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them.” — Author unknown

Funeral directors don’t deal well with mortality. Staring daily into the face of death has many effects, including a continual awareness of the fragility and transitory nature of life. At the same time, it has a way of helping sort through the things that matter, creating urgency around living your life with purpose and meaning.

    Last month, one of my funeral director mentors died at the age of 80. There were feelings of regret for not having had that last conversation, that last opportunity to say “thank-you” for the way he shaped my life. I learned so much from him and his son. In many ways, his funeral service served to provide the bridge to the next step in accepting a world without him in it. In that moment, too, as I witnessed the memorializing of someone who had always been on the other side of serving families in need, the importance of remembering became even more fundamental. In so doing, we remind ourselves that each of us, in our own time, is responsible for carrying on, just as those who have come before us.

    I am often asked where I work, what I do. In many ways, what I do is very similar to what I did as a funeral director. I am the temporary custodian of something preciously valued. I am honored with the duty of care in honoring the memory of our community’s people. Ultimately, the stories of the north country are its human ones; people who, during their lifetimes, lived, loved and cared in a way that affected others.

    I prefer to answer the question of why I do what I do. I feel a tremendous obligation to tell our community’s stories honorably in a way that helps ensure that those who have come before us are lovingly remembered. Perhaps more lasting, though, is how their lives provided an example of a continuum of care for where they spent their lives — the teacher who left an imprint on thousands, the doctor or nurse who was there to comfort and heal, the person from any walk of life who simply chose to make a difference. Not only is it right to honor these legacies, it is how others are inspired to continue that tradition.

    After a decade at the Community Foundation, I’ve been there long enough to carry out the wishes of those whom I had previous conversations regarding how they intended their support of important causes to endure when they were gone. Because of their thoughtful planning, they continue to support the people, places and organizations of the region with consistent, thoughtful, lasting care.

    At the end of the day, the things that make our community more than average are made possible by the work and mission of our region’s charitable organizations, through the support of donors of time, talent and treasure. Many caring citizens have partnered with nonprofit organizations as a tangible expression of their interests and values. These range from education, health care, a wide scope of human services, animal welfare, arts and culture, history and recreation.

    The early citizens who made gifts to build the Community Foundation did so long before many of today’s needs were clearly apparent. A donor in 1929 likely would not have anticipated the desire to offer hospice services in the region 50 years later. They would be pleased to know that the stewardship of their desire for a better community could impact lives in meaningful ways far into the future. It is hard to separate honoring one’s memory and telling the story of the forever effect of their existence. Just as matter is neither created nor destroyed, kindness, caring and generosity has an extended half-life. One way or another, each of us is forever part of our community’s story.

    In a recent CBS “On The Road” feature, Steve Hartman remembered his dad, stating “His death makes me an orphan. I can tell you this is a unique kind of emptiness. When there is no one left on earth to love you quite so unconditionally.” Sooner or later, we all can relate. “Although losing such a parent can feel like kryptonite, remembering them in all their glory can make your heart fly.”

We are at the intersection of today and tomorrow. Remember that our own lives will continue to ripple throughout our communities for a long time to come. Be ever aware of the story you were born to tell. Focus not only what you leave behind but what you made possible. Not so much for the gifts you give, but the love behind them. Do so with purpose so that others will want to remember you in ways that causes many more hearts to fly and the goodness in our communities and its organizations to endure across the generations.