I participated in our church's annual Service of Remembrance, organized by my wonderful friend, John. In the talk, I allude to two of the mourning practices of our Unitarian Universalist church: for one year, you stand during the moment of silence in each service (based on the Jewish tradition of the kaddish and yahrzeit); at some point, you or a volunteer at your direction embroiders your loved one's name on one of seven gorgeous memorial quilts that hang in the sanctuary. I have spoken in the past about these and my experience here, here, here, here and here. (Oh hell. Just click on the "church" label in the right column on my blog, which you can find with any of those "here" links.... )
Here's what I said this past Sunday:
I am here to speak a little about my loss as part of a once-a-year service of remembrance. There is a time for this, this remembering and mourning, as there is for all things. But I’d like to tell you that here, in this community, every day allows for remembrance.
A little about my time here: In 2004, my husband Kevin and I visited this church as part of our beginning journey as parents, and a way to cope with the crisis that his cancer diagnosis had brought us. A year later we joined. Kevin missed the joining ceremony because he was recovering from a surgery on his spine, a brutal operation that both saved his life and, as I look back on it, signaled the beginning of a rapid, bumpy decline in his health.
I had never had a church: no faith, no religion or tradition, and no second home. I had no way to deal with what we were facing. As the caregiver of a dying man, and another year later as a new widow with a young child, thrust into the world of death and grief I was confused, overwhelmed, and nearly broken myself.
Above all, I worried about time. I wanted to grieve quickly -- perhaps I could squeeze it all in to the 3 months which I had told work I'd need? I shuddered when I heard about rituals, like standing during the silence, that lasted an entire year. If I had known a year means nothing... If I'd known my loss is still a big part of my life, even remarried, even at 5 years.... ?
When I was in this sanctuary, I didn't have to "know." When I was here, time stood still. I never felt hurried here. I wasn’t judged. I could move backward and forward fluidly, as I needed to. When the time came, I even got awesome dating advice. Some of it from John and Amy on the playground, right out there.
Here, I was only one of many people who had lost someone. Here, we are surrounded by the names of others who loved and had to leave. People in church are not afraid that the past had existed. They say the names…. They share the loves, past, present, and future.
And the friends I made here… some of them were hurting more than I was.
Above all, the rituals of this place — the times it built — the time, at last, to stop standing during the silence — the time, concrete and specific, to embroider Kevin’s name on the quilt — helped me understand what time is and what time does for those who have lost.
One day a year is terrific. Ritual is magic, even Unitarian Universalist ritual. In this home, we are fortunate to be able to explore the traditions of the Piscataway, of Moses, and of others who have also lived through loss… who’ve done the work of time. People who know the ancient truth that our modern sage Laurie Anderson rephrased last year in a performance art piece:
“They say you die three times, once when your heart stops, again when your body is buried or cremated, and then the last time someone says your name.”
This home where the names live on — where it is always okay to cry and to laugh — can give you YOUR time, your own time. To find the freedom of your own ways to live in a world without someone you can’t live without.
This time is all that you and I have.