Tag Archives: death

In Memoriam

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Dirge without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Whether or not our loved ones died in active service, we memorialize them with lilies and laurel and roses, but we do not bury the loving memories. On this day, we as a nation remember those who gave their lives in military battle. Every war calls on journalists, authors, pundits and poets to make sense of some portion of it. In order to further my understanding, I recently saw the movie Eye in the Sky, with Helen Mirren. It is a disturbing yet enlightening story of drone warfare. Is there a way toward peace in the world?

Despite the terrible reality of war and despite the certainty of death for all of us, I can only suggest how to rise above it–with love. One by one the light in the eyes of loved ones glimmers in my own. Someday the light in my eyes will dim and others’ eyes will gleam. Against absolute darkness, love and light shine most brightly of all. And though we are seldom resigned to death, we can still smell the fragrant roses.

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Life and Loss

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Chalice.Beads

A friend and I enjoyed lunch together at Sweetish Hill.

It’s a bakery and restaurant that was located originally in East Austin where Swedish immigrants established residence many years ago. Now it’s on West 6th Street. We talked about all sorts of things just to get to know each other. Among the topics she brought up are the traumatic moments in most of our lives:

Birth (where am I? what’s going on here?); puberty; choosing a mate; mid-life crisis; and aging/dying.

In my culture, social and faith communities recognize some of these through ritual and community support.

There are baby namings and christenings for newborns and adoptees. There are coming of age ceremonies like bar and bat mitzvahs, confirmation, quinceañera, Eagle Scout honors for Boy Scouts, and Gold Awards for Girl Scouts. High school graduation marks the end of publicly supported education—the least expectation we have for basic employment, but not necessarily enough for graduates to support themselves. For that they need on-the-job training or years of college and even graduate school. Weddings celebrate true love and express the hope that couples will live happily ever after. In the U.S. we then slow down with adult celebrations other than occasional birthday galas among friends. Retirement parties include friends and colleagues.

But life is more than a series of celebrations.

Failure to get that degree? Unemployment? The loss of a child? Mental illness? Imprisonment? Medical crisis? Bankruptcy? Mid-life crisis? Aging? Not so much. Only rarely have I as a pastor been asked to create a ritual of loss other than a memorial service. Some churches I have served haveChalice.Beads offered support groups for specific groups of people. The secular world offers support groups, especially in big cities. Nowadays, technology allows people to connect across any number of miles if they have access to the Internet.

Social media has become one way people expose difficult situations that worry them or even generate a level of shame. There follows at least the electronic version of hugs and support.

These crises frequently become private matters. No one knows but the closest of friends and family. They try collectively to find online and/or local support groups and look for other resources that are hard to come by. A life crisis calls for a practical solutions and a spiritual response.

How shall we let go of dreams and find a new way forward? How can we build a new way?

We can acknowledge losses with ritual. Possibilities:

  • Throw stones into a river or shells into the sea.
  • Write down your lost dreams on flash paper and watch them go up in flame.
  • Place flowers in a place that is meaningful for you.
  • Give symbolic gifts to those who have shared the pain with you.
  • Have participants drape you with beautiful scarves and tell you what you mean to them.
  • Turn over your loss to the highest power you can name, from the Universe to God.
  • Pray for healing and wholeness.

Beyond the ritual, exercise good self care: solitude, companionship, a rugged workout or a healing walk. Eat well. Sleep. Find a therapist if you have trouble coping (and try more than one until you find someone who seems right to you).

Know this: You are not alone. So many of us have stumbled through life. If you share your loss you will find that someone else truly does have a similar story. Let their creativity and resourcefulness help you through.

Believe in yourself.

Remembering Stuart

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Stuart Williamson

A distant friend died a few days ago. Stuart Williamson was somewhat distant in miles and through infrequent contact. When I moved to Texas in 1978 it could not have been long before I met Stuart and his wife Beth, who were married 33 years.

We were all members of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, TX. We also participated in weekend meetings of the Southwestern Conference, often three times a year for many years. Beth served the Conference as President, but Stuart was there, too, with quiet support.

Northwoods Church held a weekend camping trip on the Williamson property in Bedias, TX . We pitched our tents, enjoyed a glorious campfire, and appreciated their warm hospitality. A funny story: Bob Nugen, my first husband, and I went to bed relatively early, while others were still at the campfire. Morning reports were that Bob started snoring so loudly from our tent that neighboring livestock answered his “call.” I slept through it all.

Stuart and Beth were founders of a new congregation in Huntsville: now called Thoreau Woods Unitarian Universalist Church. I continued to see them at conferences around Texas. Occasionally I would travel to Huntsville to join others in protesting the death penalty outside the death house. The Williamsons would be there. It was particularly poignant when I knew the father of a condemned man. Karo Riddle had been a member of the church I served in Waco. His son Granville, an artist, was executed following a bar fight that went horribly wrong when he was 19. I was grateful to share his story with Stuart and Beth.

The last time I saw Stuart was in Livingston, TX, where I officiated at the memorial service for one of his fellow congregants, whom I had visited several times in a Houston hospital. Stuart and Beth were there along with family, friends, and many other members of their church. Six months later Stuart was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that progressed rapidly. He died at home with Beth by his side as he took his last breath.

There is a lot more to know about Stuart (see his obituary). Seeing him every so often for decades impressed me with his steadfast dedication, his devotion to Beth, and their significant service to Unitarian Universalism in a small East Texas community.

Friendship does not require daily contact. In our case, encounters were infrequent but always welcome. Repetition added layers of connection.

Rest in peace, Stuart. Cherish the memories, Beth.

Love and blessings,

Kathleen

Blessed and Happy and Full of Love

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So my earlier post was simply a link to Loco’s prescription for “surgically removing writers block” in a careful way. He started loosening up with a book he couldn’t put down; he exercised his mind by getting into a writers’ group; he chose a subject that would keep his interest and carry him forward; and he replaced the hate that was rising within him with love. He said a lot more than that but you should read it for yourself to get a fuller context: http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2013/03/05/how-to-surgically-remove-writers-block/

One challenge for me has been to live and work alone in Houston for most of the week while Jon lives and works alone in Austin most of the week. I’m not complaining, just observing that my tendency has been to come back to my apartment and either work some more or slip into some mindless tv or resort to comfort food.

Time to get out of that rut!

First stop, music. I changed my schedule to put me in Austin on Monday evenings where I can rehearse with Tapestry Singers and the small ensemble Loose Threads. It’s my 10th year and we’re coming up to my 20th concert on May 5. To return to that great community of women and song is a real lift to my spirits. In the car I can listen to mp3s of our songs to help implant them into my brain. By next week I should be able to sing along with greater accuracy.

Before starting this entry, I couldn’t find a radio station that suited me this evening, so I turned on Pandora and chose the Shuffle option to add interest. Folk, jazz, classical, piano concerti, bluegrass; people like Hubert Laws on flute, Dar Williams on vocals, Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, and already I have the makings of a musical feast!

Exercise was simply a walk around my neighborhood to loosen up my body and mind. Blackbirds were coming home from work, too, and making a racket that made me smile. Neighbor Alice, frail and elderly, was walking around the complex as usual, opening the door or gate for people if she is close by. She was a librarian before retirement–talk about a world of books! If she can get out for a walk several times a day I have no excuse. I do like to walk over to Memorial Park, close to my apartment, or to Hermann Park, close to the church. A beautiful day.

Yesterday Jon was here and we watched the movie Happy. I think next time someone asks me how I am, I’ll say “happy.” Much better than the usual “busy,” don’t you think? You CAN choose happiness.

A couple of interesting things are coming up in my work. On the 16th at 10am, a Blessing of the Animals. We have invited a local shelter to bring some of their adoptable pets for blessings and some extra love. I’ve been told that one year someone brought a donkey; another time, one of those hissing cockroaches (I’m not sure I’m up for that, actually).

In April, we will have a special Coming of Age worship service for ten young people. We’re so proud of them and their work all year long! They will be writing their own statements of belief and I’m sure each credo will rival any religious doctrine. When beliefs come from the heart at a time of spiritual awakening they touch all our hearts. This Friday I’ll get to meet with them during their lock-in to start planning the service with the kids and their advisors.

Also in April there will be a memorial service I will be privileged to conduct. It’s unusual to have this much time to plan such a service, but that’s what the family requested. Two sons will be my primary collaborators.

There is a good bit of work involved in preparing for special events but the payoff is huge. Rites of passage, all three, will include blessings for those beloved with whom we share an extraordinary life. Considering all these blessings from birth to death, along with our animal companions, love and happiness fill my spirit. May you be blessed and happy and full of love!

Precious Times

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Precious Times Sept. 17-18, 2011

Anticipating ten days away in a cooler climate, two extra blessings preceded and accompanied me on the trip. A 92-year old member of the church quietly passed away about four hours after I visited her. This time she probably did not hear my prayer, song, and farewell, but she is fully at peace now and that is a blessing.

On the day of our departure, a long-awaited and healthy baby Sophia Elizabeth was born at home. Her parents, big sister, and countless others count her birth as a special blessing.

These two life transitions filled my heart with a wonderful sense of peace while I packed last minute items for our journey: an Alaskan cruise! Jon planned it all and gave me this gift of a lifetime–something I have imagined only in my dreams.

We flew Alaskan Airlines non-stop from Austin to Seattle. There is just one flight per day, so we spent one night in Seattle before the cruise. We took light rail–SeaTac to the closest station to the port and walked through Pike’s Market to watch fish being tossed around for customers’ entertainment.

A guy named Russell walked with us from the train. He is a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, based in Chicago. Every time he comes to Seattle for the day he makes this trek to the Market. He told us where to find an elevator down to sea level. Walking along the boardwalk, we cheered on a Susan G. Komen fundraising walk. Lots of pink ribbons, outfits, and tutus. Several decorated vehicles carried other happy participants in the fight against breast cancer.

There was no need to ask directions any more–the Norwegian Pearl loomed over the dock with its 14 decks. Embarkation was smooth and efficient. Fourteen staff members checked us in and gave us key cards. That was all we needed to make additional purchases on the ship. Meals were included in the cruise fare unless we wanted to go to a specialty restaurant, drink sodas or alcohol, gamble, or buy clothing, jewelry, art, or souvenirs on board.

Our only additional expenses were a room service fee (added automatically), one glass of wine, and one embarkation photo. Souvenir shopping was all on shore.

Tomorrow we will be at sea all day, on the way to Juneau. Stay tuned for more!

Afternoon Meditation

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Afternoon meditation sits on the edge of life and death. Layer upon layer unfold before me as I hear and see and feel power beyond imagining. Waves crash against rocks, sweep sand and castle and footprint and crab, then deposit new treasures on this shore.

It is our shore, Asilomar State Beach in California that draws us the living–human, dog, gull, and fly–to greet the dead–rock, sand, shell, seaweed. But none of it is dead. Slowly but continually transformation changes everything. There is no choice. Only this moment to breathe … in awe.