As a non-denominational minister, I officiate at the full array of life events. Last month, for example, I prepared comments for the memorial gathering of my cousin’s mother, Jo Dixon. I was reminded what I had once heard a Rabbi say regarding funerals versus weddings. At weddings, people are happy no matter what the clergy person says. But at a memorial service, both words and actions are consoling.
During life’s difficulties we’re often at a loss for words. Some of us have built thick walls around our emotions. We’ve become used to detaching ourselves from our feelings. We need to recognize that our presence with loved ones during their times of loss is consoling in and of itself.
I often ask a mourner to tell me a story or memory about their loved one. Not only does the mourner get to relive a favorite memory, but I also get to learn more about the deceased. A person lives on in the hearts and souls of those lives they had touched.
Over the years, I have come across numerous readings that have comforted me during my times of loss. I would like to share three of those.
The shortest is by Franz Kafka who wrote, “The meaning of life is that it stops.”
I am also touched by a poem by Chaim Stern.
“It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing to love, hope, dream: to be – to be,
and oh! to lose.
A thing for fools, this, a holy thing, a holy thing to love.
For your life has lived in me, your laugh once lifted me, your word was a gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing to love,
A holy thing,
To love what death has touched.”
I have also been inspired by this stanza of Rabbi Jacob P. Rudin’s prayer on death:
“To ask of death
that it never come
is futile, but it is not futility
to pray that when death comes for us,
it may take us from a world
one corner of which
is a little better
because we were there.”
Lastly, I would like to share my own rendition of Psalm 23. This Psalm is often recited in times of grief for consolation.
“My life is guided by invisible hands.
Shall I want more?
I am comforted by cool blades of soft, green grass.
Quiet waters nourish my soul,
feeding me now and for eternity
Through the beauty of nature my soul is revived.
When I do my best, I travel along paths of justice.
Though now I traverse the valley of death, I am not afraid;
the shoulders of those before me carry me through fear.
As I exhale, long and deep, I am consoled.
As I face my demons,
I am reassured
knowing the bounty of the universe
has been placed before me for my use.
My mind, my heart are full,
my thanks overflow.
Oh may I be wrapped in blessings of goodness and fullness
all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in gratitude and in peace.”
Howard M Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit www.SFHoward.com.