A few weeks ago, a colleague in counseling contacted me about a need for a client in professional therapy.
The client’s wife died the day before.
The client, now a widower, was already dealing with existential issues, including the grief and loss of a son in recent years. The family situation was such that my therapist friend knew the family had no ability to “hire” services for a funeral; and he knew they had no faith community in to partner with them in their loss.
In the next 48 hours, I worked with my colleague, a grieving husband, and a grieving son to plan and officiate for a dignified memorial ceremony.
We arranged for free space at the University where I teach, utilizing our prayer chapel.
I met with the Widower personally, to hear some of his story, and through his stories to “meet” his wife.
The next day I officiated at the memorial service. Only the widower, his son, the therapist, and the cremated remains of the Deceased were present. A husband and son, and, for all intent and purposes, a total stranger (me!) and a professional consultant.
Our time was still sacred as Another gathered with us.
The simple service included words of blessing and prayer, reminders of loss and grief, consistent with what I present in any funeral service. As with any memorial or funeral service, the family said a few personal words as the son shared stories about his mom. At the request of the Widower, I shared a few stories about objects that were precious to he and his wife, including the last gift the widower had purchased for his wife before her death. With a simple sound-system, at the request of the Widower, I played a song that had been most memorable to the deceased mother, when her son had passed, “Forever Young” by Rod Stewart.
In some ways it was the most un-remarkable of memorial services.
In other ways, it was the most poignantly powerful memorial service I have ever had opportunity to share with others. It will be more “memorable” to me than others I have officiated.
The therapist took the Widower and his son to a cafeteria restaurant afterwards, their favorite place to eat, at their request.
He shared with me later, “Just experienced my first funeral meal at Jeff’s Country Café.”
The therapist continued, “I used to think a person’s life was judged, at least in part, by the number of people who came to their funeral. The last several years, working with the forgotten; working with people who have been overlooked, has radically changed my thinking. This family would never have been in a place to ‘be known’ in the same way we are. But God knows them. Thanks for your ministry to them and to me today, friend.”
Perhaps the greatest impact we need to have in the lives of others, with others, is to partner with them in loss, to be present with them in grief.
May we find ways to extend grace, love, kindness and hope to all those in need.