It has been a crazy month, in a crazy year! On November 1, following worship, I drove to Ohio to visit my sister. Last Sunday, November 8, following worship Rod and traveled to Richmond so I could officiate at the celebration of life for the 15-yr-old only child and son of my son’s business partner. He died in a tragic accident in July in a fall off a roof. The parents are absolutely broken, and have no particular faith background . They were not ready or able to think about a service until now.
It was the hardest celebration of life service I’ve ever done, trying to use language that would honor their faith background without sacrificing my own. In the end I concluded that the best I could do was to be a loving presence.
We arrived early for the service, along with our son Dan, daughter-in-law Kristie and their children, Lily (15) and Ross (12). Dan and I sat on a bench mostly in silence.Ross eventually made his way over, sat next to me, and laid his head on my shoulder. That gesture of love and support and grief brings me to tears right now. Lily wasn’t far behind, and sat close by on my other side.
The service was held outdoors, socially distanced and masked at the soccer complex where the child had passed so many hours just below a small hill that overlooks the field. Four trees were planted and four benches placed on the hill as a living memorial. Close to 200 people were present, including many youth in soccer uniforms. Everyone was given an LED candle when they arrived, and these were turned on as the lights on the field were lowered. It looked a bit like a field full of fireflies sparkling bravely in the night.
Usually there are hymns, others share stories, and as pastor I provide prayers and a brief homily. This time around there were no hymns, two adults – a coach and a teacher spoke; then I read words of remembrance, words of dedication for the memorial hill, and words of appreciation written by the parents; and tied it all up in a very brief homily and blessing. Love never ends, that was apparent, and in some mysterious way beyond human understanding, neither does life. The lights were a reminder of the light that cannot be put out by the darkness, that each carried home – and that we carry within us in all the moments we have.
It was an unusual experience to speak the words of parents so bereft. I was aware, while speaking, that I was giving voice to something deeply honest, deeply personal, deeply holy, and achingly precious. I felt honored to be able to give that to the parents, to my own family, and to those present. In the midst of the grief, I felt very very thankful to do so.
And I was painfully aware of what I have, a loving best friend in my husband, adult children, their spouses, four grandchildren. Life isn’t fair – it simply is – fullness of life in all its joy and all its grief.
That moment, before the service, with Ross’ head on my shoulder and Lily at my side, was so poignant, so above and beyond anything I had imagined, so full of grace freely given. It lives on even as I write, gentle loving presence.
The best things in life aren’t things ~ Anne