final gathering

Yesterday, we reached another milestone in our process of saying good-bye to Grandma, gathering together with extended family for a graveside committal service back in Grandma’s hometown in Massachusetts, where her ashes would be laid to rest beside Grandpa’s in a plot that had been a wedding gift to them in 1953.

Grandma had been a member of the First Congregational Church since she was a girl and had retained her membership from afar over the last 6+ years she lived in a senior community near us. She had not wanted to have a wake and funeral, preferring instead the simplicity of a graveside service of her cremains. This gave us the ability to set a date well in advance, allowing travel plans to be made for the more far-flung relatives, including a cousin from Washington State.

This also afforded the opportunity to gather all four grandchildren, working around college and graduate school commencements. It was especially important to arrange flights for our elder daughter E and her spouse L, who were able to stop on the East Coast while flying home to Honolulu from visiting L’s family in London. It also gave E the opportunity to introduce L to our Massachusetts/Vermont extended family and B and I to show him where we had grown up, met in high school, and fallen in love.

As the family member with the most liturgical planning experience, I took on the duties of making arrangements for the service and for getting the information out to the relatives. We were blessed to have Rev. Carolyn of First Congregational preside for the service. Though she had never met Grandma, having come to pastor the church after Grandma had already moved out near us, she thoughtfully wove together some favorite Scripture passages, including psalm 121 and 1Corinthians 13, with references to Grandma’s life as a mother and grandmother, aunt, cousin, teacher, friend, and community member.

To close the service, I had asked our daughters E and T and son-in-law L to sing the traditional round, “Dona Nobis Pacem”(grant us peace). E and L have degrees in music and T is a long-time choral singer, including collegiate level. Everyone so appreciated the lovely sound of their voices, singing Grandma off to rest. I had forgotten that their relatives had not heard E and T sing since Grandpa’s memorial service almost eleven years ago; they were struck by how beautifully our family trio sings.

We were also blessed with a gloriously sunny, warm-but-not-hot morning for the service. Given the time of year and outdoor location, we had decided to forgo men in suitcoats and women in dark dresses for more spring-time clothes. I’m sure Grandma would have appreciated the floral prints and lace-accented tops we wore, which complemented the multicolor carnations we had ordered from her favorite florist shop.

After the service, we gathered for lunch at a favorite local restaurant. We had reserved a private room and had three tables of six, which made conversation easy. Although the reason we were together was sad, we appreciated the opportunity to catch up with family that we had not seen often in recent years. I was especially grateful for our daughters to spend time with their first cousins; given that their geographic distribution is about to be New York, West Virginia, Arizona, and Hawai’i ,they may not see each other together for years.

I’m sure Grandma would have been pleased and proud to see them all sitting together, chatting about their now-adult lives, even though she would still think of them as the children they once were.

Rest in peace, Grandma.

crying does not help dry eyes

B and I traveled to Syracuse yesterday to attend the last service and concert that daughter T will do with the Hendricks Chapel Choir. Although she is a student at ESF, not Syracuse U., she is able to participate in activities at SU.

On the ride up, I had told B that, at some point, I would probably dissolve in tears. Since Grandma died six weeks ago, I’ve barely teared up. I thought that I might be okay until we were with our daughters at the graveside service later this month, but I didn’t know.

On Saturday, we had attended the funeral of the mother of one of B’s co-workers. I had managed to get through the whole funeral, even though we were singing some of the familiar hymns that usually evoke tears.

I was not expecting the confluence of events on Sunday.

I expected some emotion as we witnessed the last in a very long string of academic choral events, stretching from E’s first concert as a kindergartener, going through both daughters’ elementary, middle and high schools, college, and finally T’s last service and concert as a master’s student.

Of course, there is still the fresh memory of Grandma’s death, ever-present below the surface.

What hit harder than I expected, though, was that this was the final ecumenical Christian service being held at Hendricks Chapel by Rev. Colleen, the last in an 85-year string of chaplains provided to the university by the United Methodist church.

Endings are sad.

This one, in particular, as a dynamic, young woman was being pulled away from a community that she loved and served and that loved her in return. The choir is having to search for a new musical mission, as their primary function for decades has been to  provide music for this service every Sunday.

What was unexpected for me was that this dynamic called forth not only the obvious present losses but also many long-ago ones.

Hearing the pipe organ reminded me of how much I miss playing – or even hearing – a pipe organ on a regular basis. Nearly all the organs I hear in churches at home are electronic. I can no longer play due to orthopedic problems. I have generally made peace with that, but there are moments…

The ending of a church as we have known it also brought back two other similar losses.

First was the loss of chaplaincies and regularly held services at Smith College, my alma mater.

I had spent many, many hours in Helen Hills Hills chapel, practicing, service playing, rehearsing, singing, and accompanying. I was married there a few weeks after my commencement.  When I returned to campus, I always visited the chapel and a tree planted beside it in memory of a member of my class who died in a plane accident our senior year.

I still go to visit, but it is so odd to see the chapel, which was modeled on New England Congregational churches, without its pews, replaced by clunky wooden chairs, stacked or arranged in circles or rows, depending on if the last event has been a concert or lecture or whatever. It feels empty in a way it never did when I was there alone but when it was being used for services of various traditions on a regular basis.

Second, was the loss of our home church eleven years ago. This was even more painful as T and I went through it together. T lost the only church she had ever known, where she was baptized and made her first communion, where she had sung in choir since she was in third grade and had rung handbells since sixth grade. I had been in liturgical service, both in liturgy planning and music ministry for many years. I had written music for the choir and congregation. I had accompanied E and T’s choirs, although, as my orthopedic problems worsened, I had been doing more conducting than playing.

All of these things just flooded over me and I cried – a lot.

It was comforting to have B beside me. I also was not crying alone; there were many, many tears being shed.

Rev. Colleen, while herself struggling with the forced loss of her ministry, led a beautiful “service of celebration, healing, and transition.” Despite her own tears and grief, she was able through a series of rituals to lead everyone to reflect upon and let go of what we needed to and to find joy to share. After communion, she also offered to anoint anyone who wished.

I was very grateful that she made this offer. As a Catholic, I follow the wishes of my church and do not receive communion in Protestant churches, even though they would welcome me. I don’t do it as a blind following of rules, but as a sign of personal penance and sorrow at the division among Christians.

But, anointing is a powerful, ancient practice in which I could participate.

Almost everyone came forward to be anointed, either on the forehead or hands.

What I really wanted to do was to ask Rev. Colleen after she anointed me if I could anoint her, but I decided not to ask. We had never even been introduced and I didn’t want to throw another unknown element into what was already an emotional situation.

But I do send my blessing to Rev. Colleen:  May God, who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, hold you in love and strengthen you for service all the days of your life.

Amen.

 

 

Month’s Mind

Yesterday, there was a memorial service at the senior community where my parents and, until recently, B’s mom live. They hold one every quarter for residents who have died in the previous three months; this time, there were eight.

This service marked the first official commemoration of Grandma’s death. She did not want to have a wake or funeral; there will be a graveside service later in the spring back in New England.

By coincidence, the service was almost exactly a month after Grandma’s death. It made me think of a Month’s Mind Mass, which is from my Catholic faith tradition. Grandma was not Catholic and the service was not a mass, but it was comforting to me.

The service was the first time I have been a bit teary. I have been so busy concentrating on doing everything that needs to be done and on supporting others that I haven’t really done much mourning myself.

Reaction to loss follows its own path…

Francis at Ground Zero

I wanted to watch Pope Francis’s address to the United Nations General Assembly this morning, but, due to the sudden news of House Speaker John Boehner’s impending resignation, part of the coverage of the speech was pre-empted. The part of the speech that I was able to hear was totally in keeping with what Francis has been saying around the world about overcoming poverty, upholding the common good, about integral ecology, justice, and peace.

After leaving the United Nations, Francis traveled to the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial. After visiting the outdoor memorial and meeting with family members of those who lost their lives that day, there was a stunning multi-religious prayer service in the underground museum of the memorial.

Francis joined an arc of New York City religious leaders, reflecting in their persons and their traditional religious dress the huge diversity of the city and of the United States as a whole. There were prayers and chants on the theme of peace from the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Christian traditions in several languages, often with translations offered. After a stunning prayer for the dead sung in Hebrew, the Pope spoke in Spanish, ending with a plea for peace and a moment of silence for each to offer their own prayers or thoughts in accord with their own beliefs.

This was followed by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” The sound of their young voices, coupled with the visual impact of their diversity, brought tears to my eyes, especially when the camera zoomed in on two of the singers holding hands.

It all made me believe that peace is possible.

Peace is essential.

Francis in Cuba

Pope Francis’s core message of his first full day in Cuba has been “Serve other people, not ideology.”

People in the United States could very well receive the same core message when Francis arrives here later in the week.

Thanksgiving Eve

Today is the day before Thanksgiving in the United States. My daughter and son-in-law have traveled 5,000 miles to be here to celebrate with us, their first trip back to our home in almost three years. As a special bonus, we are having a snowstorm. Snow is not a featured weather form at their home in Honolulu!

We have been doing some of the prep work for feasting tomorrow. Beth and Larry have the dough for chocolate babka rising in the refrigerator. They wanted to make it for a festive breakfast to fuel the rest of the kitchen work tomorrow morning. The Indian pudding is baked, ready to re-heat tomorrow. The flavors blend and deepen overnight, so we always prepare it a day ahead. Ditto for the spiced cranberry orange relish.

One unexpected aspect of the day, besides the earlier than expected arrival of the snow, was my attendance at a funeral this morning. Wednesday morning is usually the meeting of the spirituality study group I facilitate at church, but I cancelled today so that we could participate in the funeral liturgy for Virginia, who was one of our former members.

Virginia was a fascinating woman. After serving in the W.A.V.E.S. during WWII, she had married a firefighter. When she was 36, he was killed in the line of duty and she raised eight children on her own. She was a librarian and an insightful thinker. She was in her 80s when I met her and I loved to hear her perspective on life and spirituality. She had served with the Catholic Worker movement with Dorothy Day and was one of the most joyful, insightful, service-oriented women I have ever met. She was 91 when she died on Sunday. Rest in peace, Virginia.

I thank God for the privilege of having experienced your witness of true service to God and neighbor.

One-Liner Wednesday: Saint Francis quote

“Remember when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received, only what you have been given:  a heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”
– Saint Francis of Assisi

Join in with Linda’s One-liner Wednesday:  http://lindaghill.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/one-liner-wednesday-april-13-2004/

Paying it forward

On Monday mornings, my parents usually head to their favorite grocery store. Because my dad is bald and needs to protect his head from the sun, he usually wears a cap when he goes out, often his SeaBee cap.

It’s not unusual for people to comment on his SeaBee cap, thanking him for his service or mentioning a family member who was also in the US Navy or another branch of the military.

While they were checking out, the man behind my father was asking him about his service; Dad served in the Pacific in World War II and was called back into active service during the Korean Conflict. When it was time to pay the bill, a woman who was third in line, having heard the conversation, came forward to pay for my parents’ order. Her husband, now in his 50s, had been career military and she wanted to express gratitude to the prior generation of veterans.

My parents were so surprised! My mom said that she had heard stories about paying it forward, but had never seen it in action. I told my mother that it is good for people who are used to giving, as she and my dad have been for decades, to be able to accept a gift so others experience the joy of giving, too.

Mom is already planning to give extra food/money this month to Mother Teresa’s Cupboard, which aids local folks who are hungry, to pay it forward again.

Remembrance

We just returned from Holy Thursday Mass. Fittingly, the focus of the homily was remembrance. The 4,000+ years of remembrance of the Passover, the almost 2,000 years remembrance of the celebration of the Eucharist, and the remembrance of our call to serve one another, symbolized by the washing of the feet. The twelve whose feet were washed were a cross-section of the community, diverse in race, ethnicity, and gender, with an age range of at least six decades.

There were other personal remembrances for me, especially of my former parish, which was the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. This made the Holy Thursday liturgy especially significant for us and it was always my favorite liturgy of the year. I was remembering our music ministry at Blessed Sacrament, which was brought to mind by the fact that some of the musicians this evening, including my daughter, were music ministers at Blessed Sacrament back in the day.

I was remembering the sculpture of Jesus, seated as though at a table, holding the bread and the cup, which dominated the wall behind the altar. It was such a welcoming presence; during times in my life when I felt unwelcomed by some in the Church, it was a comfort to meditate on it.

At communion, I was remembering that on Holy Thursday, instead of the usual hosts, we consecrated tiny individual unleavened breads that had been baked by one of our long-time parishioners.

The Holy Thursday liturgy ends with the Blessed Sacrament being placed on an altar of reposition, instead of in the main tabernacle of the church. Tonight, the church had placed a glass tabernacle in a simply but beautifully decorated space along the side wall of the church. I was holding in remembrance my favorite tabernacle, which was the one we used at Blessed Sacrament after our major renovation. A liturgical artist made a natural linen-colored square-based tent for us, decorated with piping that matched the red, blue, and green color accents painted in the tower of the church. On Holy Thursday, we carried the tabernacle in procession before the Blessed Sacrament and set it on the altar of repose. The Blessed Sacrament was placed inside, incensed, and then the tent flap was closed. I loved the symbolism, because the word tabernacle comes from the word tent and reminds us of the tent in which the Ark of the Covenant was housed before the Temple was built in Jerusalem. Like the Passover remembrance, the tent-tabernacle reminds me of the profoundly Jewish roots of Christians and the love and respect to which we are all called.