Celebration of Life 2021 June 17th 2021 4:30pm
Intro and Welcome
Today we gather together here on the patio of memories outside of a house full of so many memories and emotions. It unites families and stories that might never have come together otherwise, and it can evoke within many of you unexpected feelings as you return to this sacred space. I want to acknowledge that this may feel overwhelming. This is not a space for conformity, no-one grieves in the same way. Please feel free to take care of your needs, to reach for tissues or water, to take space for yourself, to retreat inward into your memories of your loved one, let your mind wonder and detach if needed. Through these doors is a restroom available to you, please wear your mask while inside. For those of you at home watching, we are gathered here today in community, in love, and in shared grief with you. We will remember and honor your loved ones today, please know we are here for you if you need support.
Diane Schwarz will now read a poem written by Mary Oliver called “Wild Geese.”
Mary Oliver’s poem may not sound at first like a poem which can be interpreted through the experience of grief. But to me, it’s a poem I keep returning to, time after time, because it speaks the heart of the pain of grief, loneliness. I often here from people: “I just don’t want to feel alone.” It’s normal to feel lonely in grief, and when joy or laughter is presented to you by friends or family, it is common to reject it because you do not want to experience this without this person you miss. Mary Oliver speaks to this when she says “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees, for a hundred miles through the desert repenting, you only have to let yourself love what it loves.” I hear her saying, “You’re worthy to continue this life in joy and laughter, you do not have to suffer without them. Love what you love.”
You are here today because of the people you love, but you didn’t just love them, you loved life with them. That is why a feeling of deep loneliness can sometimes set in, as you learn to love life in a new way. The death of a loved can be one of the most difficult life events we will ever have to endure. But then, in the midst of the mess, beauty can be found and it abounds. Little by little hope finds its way to us. That hope doesn’t come on a schedule as you know. You cannot map out the hours, days, and months separating you from the time you had with your loved one present here with you, there is no set plan to follow, unfortunately. But one thing we can do is mark that time with remembrance. That is what you are here for today. You’ve marked birthdays, anniversaries, first kisses, first dates, that time they taught you to ride a bike or throw a ball, all the significant moments you shared with them, and today, you are marking another touchpoint in time in their honor. It is the slow and focused work of grief to mark these moments. This is the rebuilding of yourself, carrying their memory with you.
Grief is not something you stop carrying with you, it is the reminder of a loss, of a changed routine, a new identity, the mind going over and over every moment you had with them, living into the wisdom they taught you, it is hard work, but the deep dark sadness of it lets up slowly, and you get respite, and the joy and laughter might start to trickle in, if just for brief moments, then longer and fuller like a sunrise peaking over a horizon. Grief is a universal experience, it connects all of us, that’s why during the first months and years of living without your loved one, you will begin to make connections with people in ways you never thought, you are suddenly in a new community, and new friendships can form through the sharing of your stories and experiences.
Mary Oliver writes, “Tell me about your despair, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.” It can feel like the world is going on without you in your grief, but you are not alone, there are others waiting for you, to share in your despair, and your joy. To help you to feel not alone. But Mary Oliver isn’t just encouraging you not to retreat from the world entirely and to join in with people, she invites you to go even further, to feel a communal spirit with all the world around you, including nature. To observe that, in the sun rising, the geese returning home, the clear pebbles of rain moving across the landscape, can offer you a foundation of trust, that the world has not ended, it continues on, waiting for you to join when you are ready.
We gather in community to remember and celebrate them, to say their names and to mark the significance of their life with a piece of life, a white carnation. We gather together as a community who took the journey of care that allowed some of the most beloved people in your lives to die surrounded by compassion, love, and dignity. As we gather together, we acknowledge that their lives were profoundly meaningful, not in years, not in accomplishments, but in their individuality, that piece of them that can never be replicated by another, the piece of them in you that comes out at times, surprising you at the imprint they left on your own personality. Mary Oliver writes, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” Whenever you feel lonely, call on your loved one to remind you, to show how welcome you are in the world around you. I encourage you to honor their lives by continuing to cherish the beauty and the bounty of this life we have every day you are able to do so.
Now we will begin to place the carnations here in our urn, which is standing on pavers dedicated in loving memory. With the placing of each flower, we come together to support you and your family in welcoming your loved one’s name into our hearts, recognizing their impact on your life, and offering you a place in this community. I will begin in order by last name, please take your time in coming forward to place the carnation. Gary will place one for each person whose family are not able to be here in-person with us.
We place this single flower in honor of all those not named here today, to remember those who came to Hospice House for care at end of life, in a challenging year, and to send our love and support for all their family and friends.
Closing and Sending
We have marked this day to remember and reflect on the lives of these wonderful people, and welcomed them into our hearts. May you be blessed this day and the days ahead, with bountiful reminders from your loved one that you are a part of this family of things, this beautiful world which continues ahead. May you be surrounded with support and love. When you need a listening ear, may it be there for you. The staff here are honored to join in with this memorial, and we continue to be here for you should you need us. These flowers will remain in this urn to adorn our patio, for this we thank you.