This past Thursday, we gathered with our community at Hospice House for our annual Celebration of Life Ceremony.
The ceremony is one of three annual services that Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg offers to those grieving the death of a loved one.
One of the most beautiful aspects of this service is that it takes place on the Patio of Memories just outside of the sunrooom doors at Hospice House.
It is a service where nature, grief and love meet. Poetry, song, litanies and remembrance rituals allow for all three to weave together beautifully.
The departure from the ceremony is marked by a reception hosted by our talented Hospice House volunteers.
The food and decorations are beautiful. So too are the moments of reconnecting between Hospice House staff and the families who have journeyed here with us.
There were many individuals who could not be with us last Thursday due to a myriad of prior commitments and circumstances.
Please know that we were thinking of you and remembering your loved ones with you.
Below is the reflection provided by our Hospice House Chaplain, Hannah Creager as well as a PDF copy of the program.
May the light of your loved ones continue to shine brightly in the world – both around and within you.
For the last three years that I’ve been working here at Hospice House there’s one element to this Celebration of Life service that has always been consistent: the weather.
Each year, without fail, it has always rained at this event.
In preparation for this year’s event, I’ve been checking the forecast for today every single day.
I was surprised to discover that this year was defying our pattern. No rain in sight. We are in a dry spell today it seems.
However, we are never really that far away from rain.
Rain is so essential to everything that you see around you in this space today.
Rain is what keeps the pansies, hostas and daffodils blooming around our premises each year.
It is thereby the source of the bees and the butterflies fluttering at our doors.
Rain is the reason so many birds gather in our bird baths and the reason deer and rabbits come to feed at the rich grasses nesting near our benches.
It is the life breath of an ecosystem here at Hospice House.
We rely on it for balance.
Without it, well, life becomes fragile very quickly.
Last summer, we saw some of the signs of the state-wide drought here at Hospice House.
Our grass turned a rather rustic shade of brown.
The birds were a little less quick to jump into our rather warm and empty bird bath.
The flies buzzed much louder than the dragonflies and the bees.
Rain’s absence was palpable.
I talk about rain today, because losing a loved one is, to those of us who have experienced it, a lot like drought.
Losing those we love tears apart the ecosystems of our day-to-day living.
It deconstructs our routines: when we rise, when we go to sleep, our daily tasks.
Loss disrupts our concept of and hopes for the future.
Losing a loved one sends us fluttering about like birds and butterflies in a drought wondering who we are and not knowing quite where to land.
And like the birds and the turtles, the deer and the rabbits, the hostas and the pansies, we find ourselves in a place of yearning.
We long for relief.
We pine for that which is precious to us.
We thirst for things to be as they once were – for our loved ones, like the rain, to be with us. We ache for them to return and make things whole again.
For the last several months, Cape Town, South Africa has been under a very severe drought.
I’ve been following the stories there quite closely as I love that region of the world and have visited multiple times.
The drought was at one point becoming so acute, that experts were saying that the city had a few months before the water reservoirs would be completely empty.
Cape Town would become the largest metropolitan area in the world to have ever run out of water.
In an effort to abate the catastrophic drought, especially as the high tourism season approached, the government of South Africa partnered with several area agencies to promote water conservation.
One of these entities was the Joburg Ballet, one of the finest ballets in the world.
To market conservation awareness and practices, the Joburg Ballet opted to release a short video of principal ballerina Kitty Phetla performing a rain dance.
Dressed in colorful garbs akin to those of Queen Modjadji, Africa’s legendary “rain queen,” Phetla can be seen twirling and summoning the clouds from the heavens ushering them back toward the earth.
But the most fascinating part of the dance is where it takes place.
Phetla pirouettes, twists and curls on a small platform in the middle of the dry, dusty basin of the Theewaterskloof Dam just outside of Cape Town.
I will tell you that the first time I saw the video I thought she was dancing in a desert.
The land around her is completely barren, cracked and visibly heated. There is no trace of water in sight.
Perhaps, this is what makes her dancing so mesmerizing – she’s beckoning for rain in a cracked-dry well.
I cite Phetla’s dance because I believe that it is so akin to what we are enacting here today.
While we may not be spinning on our toes or stretching our fingertips to the skies, we are rehearsing the movements of longing – a dance of yearning.
We are honoring the claim together today that our lives are marked by drought, by absence of those we love, and that we, as human beings thirst for the opportunity to honor their memories and the roles they played in making our lives vibrant and balanced.
In gathering here today we overcome the dry reservoir of grieving spaces within our society, and we claim that our well-being is dependent upon remembering – upon abiding in the rains of life.
Together, we proclaim that we are not alone, and that yearning and longing are evidence of where great love abides.
In a few moments, we will listen for the names of our loved ones to the gentle sound of a rain stick.
I invite you, as you listen for their names, to let the memories of their love for you wash over you like a gentle rain.
Let their voices sprinkle in your ears, their arms fall around you, and the dreams you had for one another drizzle softly in your mind.
Friends, the rains of love are all around us here today. Welcome to the dance.
For a copy of the 2018 Celebration of Life Bulletin, please click the following link: