Leonard Shlain’s Memorial Service: Insight and inspiration

May 16, 2009 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)


Generally the last person from whom I expect to hear a speech at a memorial service is the deceased.

Leave it to Leonard Shlain to turn that on its ear.

More accurately – several hundred ears, actually. The sanctuary at San Francisco’s Sherith Israel was filled yesterday afternoon – a fitting tribute for a man with whom I had the pleasure and honor of crossing paths only a few times, but each of those interactions left an indelible mark.

What struck me more than anything else on that day was the composure and grace with which his family appeared to move through the service, including the requisite reception afterwards. It probably helped that this death was not a surprise in coming. It probably also helped that the family, a close-knit one, had a beautifully cathartic and grounding experience processing his death before it came. It was that film that played during the service that was so touching.

You see, when Leonard Shlain found out that he was dying, he asked his filmmaker daughter for a monumental favor. He asked her to help make a film that would show at his memorial service. I cannot imaging what that was like for her, or for any of the family who took part. But having lost my father nearly a decade ago, and finding that my family still shies from conversations where we talk about him, having a chance to celebrate a family member’s life while they’re alive and process their loss along the way … just sounds healthy to me.

I didn’t know Leonard Shlain well. Hardly at all, really. But in his death I am grateful for his life.


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