No matter what our path or belief system, death is an important part of life. A step in a journey. A new beginning.
It is through the sharing of our sorrow that we are able to relieve our grief after those we love pass from this life. And by listening to the stories of those loved ones we learn lessons about how to live our lives fully and how to remain strong when faced with this challenge ourselves.
Death is a piece of life, not its opposite, not even its end but merely one station of a larger cycle. We are born, we die, we are reborn in a different shape. Our bodies decompose and fee the flowers that feed the soil that feeds the crops that feed the livestock that feeds us. These are the facts of life and death: when something dies it becomes a part of something else that lives. Biology, if not all theology, supports this view.
(‘A meditation on death’ by Sabina C. Becker)
Rachel Held Evans died after a brief illness on May 4th 2019. Her death has had a huge impact on many around the world who valued her wisdom, insights and courage and who were challenged and encouraged by her books and blog posts.
The following is in response to the news of Rachel’s death.
Rachel Held Evans, in memoriam.
Sometimes, we are
too distracted or
to fully recognize bravery
in our midst.
it slips away,
when it is purloined
from our presence
by one form
of dis-ease or another,
we are cut
to the quick.
Here is the secret
of having been
in its presence at all:
whether we noticed
it or not,
it soaked deeply
into our beings;
it is now in us,
and we are in it.
As we feel this,
we begin to understand
that it calls us toward
its forward trajectory,
into courageous beings
to reflect hope’s face
where its absence
is the root of mystery:
that the love of power
and all its quivering minions
are no match
for the power of love
and its knee-knocking cohort
who stand, speak,
and act from a core
of grace, because
we can do no other.
Praise be to God!
(Source: © 2019 Todd Jenkins)
I want to know, when day is done,
That life has been worth living.
That I have brought somebody joy,
Through kind and unselfish giving.
I want to feel, when evening falls,
And shadows quickly lengthen,
That I have made somebody glad,
Some weakness I have strengthened.
I want to know, that come what may,
I’ve left some cheer and gladness.
I want to know, that on my way,
I’ve banished someone’s sadness.
I want to feel at close of day,
That someone’s cares were lighter.
Because a kindness I have done,
Made someone’s life be brighter
A friend posted this about a funeral of his friend, where the card handed out contained these beautiful words:
When I have come to the end of the road,
And the sun has set for me,
I want no rites in a gloom filled room.
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little – but not too long,
And not with your head bowed low,
Remember the love that we once shared,
Miss me – but let me go.
For this is a journey that we all must take,
And each must go it alone.
It’s all part of the Master’s plan,
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick of heart,
Go to the friends we know,
And lose your sorrows in doing good deeds.
Miss me – but let me go.”
(RIP, Daniel (Paddy) O’Rourke)
Here the whole world (stars, water, air,
And field, and forest, as they were
Reflected in a single mind)
Like cast off clothes was left behind
In ashes, yet with hopes that she,
Re-born from holy poverty,
In lenten lands, hereafter may
Resume them on her Easter Day.”
(Source: Epitaph for Joy Gresham Davidman, beloved wife of C.S. Lewis)
Each birth causes us to wonder
where the spark of life comes from.
Every death makes us wonder
what of that life survives.
What we have done, and who we have been,
remains part of the wider universe long after our physical life has ended.
In the letting go
In the letting go we find life:
For deeper than the striving is the flowing,
Deeper than the searching is the knowing
And deeper than the grieving is the mystery
In which darkness and light are one.
Through the letting go we find life:
For greater than the owning is the sharing,
Greater than competing is belonging
And greater than our species is the Cosmos
In which all of the parts are one.
(Text and Music © William Livingstone Wallace. Sound file here.)
Depart, O Christian souls, out of this world;
In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.
May your rest be this day in peace,
and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.
the love of those
who have loved me
echo in me.
All the notes of my song
sing over theirs,
the only kind of beauty.
The song does not die.
May I live
with love and mercy
for it will echo
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)
God, I’m sitting in a deep well a grief.
I hear the noise and movement from life outside of the painful bubble in which I currently abide. I wish that I could be with those carrying on the everyday-ness of life.
But right now, God, it’s you and me in this space of mourning. Far away from the normalcy I know, we sit together.
One of these days, you will help me reach the top of the well. But right now we curl up in the shadows of this abyss. And for that sliver of light, I am grateful. Amen.
(Source: Rev. Michelle L. Torigian, RevGalBlogPals)
Our departed loved ones
The dead are not distant or absent. They are alongside us. When we lose someone to death, we lose their physical image and presence, they slip out of visible form into invisible presence. This alteration of form is the reason we cannot see the dead. But because we cannot see them does not mean that they are not there. Transfigured into eternal form, the dead cannot reverse the journey and even for one second re-enter their old form to linger with us a while. Though they cannot reappear, they continue to be near us and part of the healing of grief is the refinement of our hearts whereby we come to sense their loving nearness. When we ourselves enter the eternal world and come to see our lives on earth in full view, we may be surprised at the immense assistance and support with which our departed loved ones have accompanied every moment of our lives. In their new, transfigured presence their compassion, understanding and love take on a divine depth, enabling them to become secret angels guiding and sheltering the unfolding of our destiny.
(Source: John O’Donohue, from Beauty)
Farewell words (various resources and liturgies)
Of course it’s best to choose music special to the person ahead of time. Here are some further suggestions:
When the shadow of death (can be sung as a solo)
Through the rivers of our tears (for a child’s funeral)
May our friend. (STS1)
For all Christ’s friends. (STS1)
Though the earthly life. (Can be a solo with response)(STS2)
Through the love of God our Father. (STS2)
Singing the Sacred Vol 1 2011, Vol 2 2014 World Library Publications
Go silent friend
Go, silent friend, your life has found its ending:
to dust returns your weary, mortal frame.
God, who before birth called you into being,
now calls you hence, his accent still the same.
Go, silent friend, your life in Christ is buried;
for you He lived and died and rose again.
Close by His side your promised place is waiting
where, fully known, you shall with God remain.
Go, silent friend. Forgive us if we grieved you;
safe now in heaven, kindly say our name.
Your life has touched us, that is why we mourn you;
our lives without you cannot be the same.
Go, silent friend, we do not grudge you glory.
Sing, sing with joy deep praises to your Lord.
You, who believed that Christ would come back for you,
now celebrate that Jesus keeps his word.
Text: John L. Bell & Graham Maule
Tune: Londonderry Air
For further thought: How to let life’s pain make your heart soft instead of hard by Benjamin Corey.
A video of the funeral of Dr Gregor Ramsey, Pilgrim Uniting Church (11 May 2018)