If that title, at the beginning of Advent didn’t get your attention I’m not sure what would! As you can imagine, in my role as a Minister, I am often in contact, immersed even, in death and grief – averaging two or more deaths per week when I add in my role as United Church Chaplain at the Moncton Hospitals.
Death and Grief are common denominators to being human – and yet, we struggle so much with both!
Last week while sitting with the Funeral Director as we waited for the family of Frances Fawcett to arrive, we spoke of how much more common it is for there to be no funeral or memorial service and the loss that is to so many. In many cases, the obituary reads, “as per (NAME’S) wishes, there will be no visitation or service.”
The value of a memorial/funeral service was a recurring conversation between my dad and me. In Prince Edward Island, funeral traditions include a wake (visitation) where friends come to pay their respects by filing past the casket and through a receiving line of grieving family members. I can still remember going to a funeral with my grandmother and hearing her remark to one of the family members "Hilda looked beautiful and peaceful" – and thinking to my teenaged self – she looked very dead.
It is the idea of all the people who didn’t come and visit when he was alive that had my dad saying that he didn’t want a wake or a funeral – “I don’t need them looking at me when I’m dead when they didn’t come and see me when I’m alive.”
I did have opportunity a year and a half ago to go with mom and dad when they met with the funeral director to pre-plan their funerals and I am relieved to know that we will have an opportunity to gather in our grief at their death and remember and give thanks for the love they shared with us their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and friends. There will no doubt be laughter and tears that arise out of the stories that are shared – and that is good and healthy.
Have a conversation with your family and those in care of honouring your last wishes. There are many ways to honour a life lived – and the honouring need not take place in a funeral home or a church or involve a minister or priest. Gather at the 19th hole where uncle golfed. Gather at the library where she read books to toddlers every week. Gather at the Church and bring pictures of hunting and fishing trips. Gather at the park where there was a memorable picnic. Notice the common word in the previous four sentences: gather. Gather and share stories. Gather and share memories. Gather and support one another in the loss of this one you have loved and lost.
Gather. And with the advent of Zoom, gathering can involve people from across the world and need not cost a fortune. By gathering and sharing stories and memories we begin the healthy journey of grief that leads to gratitude: gratitude for the life of a loved one, gratitude for the impact that life has had on my life, gratitude for my own life and opportunity to reflect on how I wish to live the remainder of if…
And a final thought on death – the reference to gifts in the title above! Give the gifts you want to give to your loved ones, when you are alive! Said another way, minimize the complexity of your estate because the only ones who benefit from an estate made complex by many assets or the attempt to disperse gifts over time, are the lawyers! Talk to your accountant and/or financial advisor and ask them, “What is the best way for me to pass on the assets I wish to share with others?” “How do I pass things on, knowing that they will go to the person or organization I wish them to, with the least amount of complexity?” There are many benefits to giving gifts when you are alive – not the least of which can be witnessing and recieving the gratitude of the recipient.
On Friday I look forward to gathering with the family of Teresa Duffy to share their grief and celebrate the gift that was Teresa’s life – a life that knew struggle and challenge but also joy and beauty. There will be music and stories, tears and laughter and love – and that’s the way it should be! If you knew Teresa or even knew of Teresa through Kate and Karin, come share in the common denominator: death and grief – and love!
PS: For those of you not on the Facebook Group, I was informed last night that a person who was present at the Sunday Gathering on November 26th tested positive for COVID. This person was wearing a mask while in the building and took other precautions. Please monitor your health and if you are feeling ill, self-isolate, test, and seek medical care as needed. And please remember, If you are feeling ill, stay home and participate via Facebook Live.
I worked from home this morning writing this reflection and responding to emails and planning the weeks activities. This afternoon I have two pastoral visits booked and at 7PM I am at a meeting Moncton hosted by the General Council on French ministry in the area.
On Tuesday morning I have two meetings booked. The first is with the Trustees of Sackville United Church and the second is with the Lectionary Study Group followed by a pastoral visit over lunch. The afternoon is open at the moment and I hope to schedule some visits before the end of today.
Wednesday morning will see me at the Church with others and Open Sky. Coffee will be ready at 10AM! Come and join in the conversation and enjoy the Christmas decorations! Wednesday afternoon will be devoted to crafting the funeral service for Friday.
Thursday will have me working from home on the reflection for Sunday and putting final touches on the liturgy. Friday, as above, at 11AM is the funeral for Teresa Duffy at Jones Funeral Home.
Saturday will be a day off and maybe I’ll get over to Open Sky to get me picture taken with the Jolly Red Elf himself!
On Sunday we will gathering in community to mark the second Sunday of Advent, continuing with the theme: How does a weary world rejoice? We find joy in connection. And in the afternoon at 3PM you are invited to join Jennie and Lloyd at the Drew for Christmas Carols with the residents!
Teresa's last visit with Rasta at the Drew on Sunday November 6th.