There’s a scene in the movie “Empire Records,” where all the record store employees hold a funeral for Deb, even though she’s still alive. Earlier in the movie, Deb had tried to kill herself. So her friends and co-workers held the mock funeral so she could hear all the reasons she was loved.
I was thinking about this on Monday afternoon as a few hundred people gathered at Slim’s to say last goodbyes to our friend Angie Hathaway. Our lovely, generous, hilarious, spirited Angie had passed away suddenly the week before, and we were all there to hold each other up and share the thousands of reasons we loved her. For so many, Angie was a staple of San Francisco, so the crowd ranged from straight-laced folks to those who are tattooed knuckles to neck.
Angie and I had been tight in our mid-20s, and since one of her many talents was cartography, she made the maps to my San Francisco and NYC guidebooks. We hung out a lot back then, but it had been a decade since those salad days, and as happens so often in life, we’d drifted apart. We’d become those San Franciscans who, when our paths crossed, gave each other really good hugs and chatted for five minutes before continuing on our ways. So I’d never gotten to tell her how absolutely wonderful she was. How her loud laugh and exuberant energy lit up rooms and lifted up people. How her many craft talents inspired people to try new things and to create.
These sentiments and many more were passed around Slim’s that day like a collection plate, while babies toddled and screamed and cute dogs chased each other through our legs. It made me realize we should hold memorials for our friends while they’re still alive, so we can shower them with the love we somehow hold back until they die.
I shared this idea on Facebook, and a lot of people chimed in that this is what a birthday party is. And while I get that, I’m thinking it has to be something more. Don’t get me wrong: Birthday parties are great, but they are rarely the deep outpouring of love, admiration and appreciation that we see at memorials. Life’s hard as it is, so why not make a point of gathering people together to tell someone just how important they are? It could kind of be like a roast, but instead of saying hilariously twisted and messed up things about someone, we could get up and share what makes this person such a blessing to have in our lives.
A few years ago, one of my roommates did this for her birthday. (She actually scared the shit out of me because I got invited to it by email and, at first glance, I thought she had died). I wasn’t able to attend, but when I asked her about it, she said, “It might’ve been the most narcissistic thing I’ve ever done, but I was in weird place at the time and hearing from so many people why they loved me really helped me through it.”
We live our lives in our own heads. We only really get the sense of how the people we cherish feel about us by what they allow themselves to show. But we shouldn’t wait ’til someone is gone to share what makes them special enough to keep them in our hearts. So maybe that’s what we should start doing.
Pick someone you love and throw them a living memorial. Gather their friends together and take turns absolutely fucking gushing about them. Tell them why you look up to them, what inspires you about them, how they make you feel and, most importantly, what your life would be like without them. Because, otherwise, you might never get to tell them at all.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.