Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 3, 2005

"Live like you were dying"

We arrived at the church about 45 minutes before the memorial service began. That gave us time to greet the family, read the program and look at the flowers.

Laurel had died of a heart attack the week before while on a cruise with his wife and other family members. Although we were shocked and saddened to hear of his death at age 61, we were glad that he was with family members and doing something he always wanted to do.

Laurel loved Elvis, so it was fitting that various Elvis recordings provided the background music before the service.

Reflections from a friend at the service paid tribute to Laurel's love of life.

"You'll never find anyone who lived more in the present moment than he did.," he said.

Even one of the selected songs, Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying," carried out the "theme" of finding enjoyment in every day.

Those who shared the cruise with him reported that Laurel was having the time of his life. A salesman by profession, he made sure he got to know as many people as possible.

"He probably knew all 2,000 other people - including the wait staff - on that ship," the minister joked.

He urged us to take time to look at the pictures from the cruise. The photos showed Laurel playing cards, hamming it up with family members, posing with his hair braided and beaded, wearing a pink tie.

"If Donald Trump can wear a pink tie, I can wear one, too," Laurel had told his wife.

Laurel's son wore the pink tie at the service.

When the ship docked at Antigua, despite the warnings by the cruise people that the ship would not wait if they were late getting back, Laurel took a taxi tour of the island. "Best $10 I ever spent," he said.

The minister mentioned Laurel's love of newspapers, which we already knew. Whenever we went on vacation, we didn't stop delivery of the paper, but just told Laurel he could have it.

He enjoyed K-State sports and pheasant hunting. Family members who traveled from his boyhood home in northwest Kansas said that as they were driving to the funeral, a flock of pheasants flew in front of their car. They took it as a sign of Laurel telling them, "It's OK."

Laurel and his wife were my neighbors when I lived in Manhattan. I hadn't seen them often the last few years, but whenever I did, Laurel always stopped what he was doing to chat. He was a good listener and he always seemed interested in what I or anyone else had to say.

And he shared that friendly nature with many people. The minister said he could imagine Laurel in heaven introducing himself to everyone there. And he could also imagine that, when our time comes, Laurel will be right there to greet us and to make sure we meet all his friends.

Funerals have changed for the better over the years, and Laurel's was a good example. They used to emphasize the loss, but over time they have changed to focus on the celebration of life. The sadness can't and shouldn't be avoided. But it's equally important to highlight the happiness brought into our lives by the person whose time on earth is over.

Laurel was one of those people who made others happier just to see him, and I thought of him when I saw the floral arrangements at the front of the church. They were all beautiful, but the sunflowers in the middle bouquet caught my eye. Like Laurel, they made the moment just a bit brighter.

"I want sunflowers at my funeral," I whispered to Art. "They're bright and happy."

Laurel Smith

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