What is your heart doing right now?
—from Mary Oliver's "When Did It Happen?," in Felicity
Patricia was our hospice patient for three years. She had lung cancer, and by the time I got to know her she had beaten all odds. Patricia was extraordinarily blunt and independent and quirky. At one point, she even “fired” as many hospice team members as she could manage—including me, the chaplain.
When Patricia was nearing the end of her life, her son Richard came to Chicago. He didn’t believe it at first, but slowly he understood that Patricia was at the end of her road. After she died, Patricia’s neighbor came to me and said, “We need to acknowledge Patricia’s life, but Richard doesn’t want a memorial service.”
The “we” she was talking about were Patricia’s friends and neighbors, all of whom had pitched in to take care of her and had grown to love her. They were sad; they needed to share their love for Patricia with each other and to get to know Richard before he returned to his life out of state.
Patricia’s neighbor and I agreed that she would round up Patricia’s friends and the other neighbors, and would put out some drinks and food in Patricia’s condo. I would lead a time of sharing.
I began the evening by lighting a candle. I read some poetry I knew Patricia would like, then shared what I knew of Patricia’s life — a eulogy of sorts — inviting people to share their favorite stories about her. We closed the evening with more poetry, and then I blew out the candle.
Afterwards, Richard approached me. “Thank you,” he said. “I didn’t know I needed that.”
Remembering is the art of holding a memory and sharing it; it’s drawing upon that memory so it can help us to grow into people who live lives of meaning and service. As a practice, remembering connects us deeply to each other and to the love that sustains us.
Richard may forget the content of the stories he heard. He may forget the names of his mother’s friends. He won’t forget that Patricia loved him, or that she was loved. Love showed up when Richard was feeling bereft, and held him close.
May our challenging stories—the ones full of pain and sorrow—merge with the stories of joy and laughter as we reflect and remember, held by the great Sustaining Love that accompanies us. May we feel content in the richness of this Sustaining Love. Amen and Blessed Be.