Humanist Graveside Interment Ceremony

A brief interment ceremony originally done by James T. McCollum for the family of a person who died of AIDS. Mt. Hope Cemetery 21 December 1993.

In the presence of life, we say no to death. In the presence of death, we say yes to life!

We come to this place, that we may give expression to the depth of loneliness and the longing-after-new-life, which the death of Hamish MacTaggart has brought upon us. Thus do we share the sights and sounds of loss and comfort, of fear and courage, of bitterness and love. But especially of love – a love which can triumph over all pain, bringing us again to the font from which all meaning, beauty and truth eternally flows.

No person can sum up the life of another. Life is too precious to be passed over with mere words, which ring, empty. Rather, it must remain as it is remembered by those who loved and watched and shared. For such memories are alive, unbound by events of birth or death. And as living memories we possess the greatest gift one person can give to another.

It is customary for our species, when one we love dies, to bring together those whose lives were touched significantly by the life of the one who has died. This is the reason for a funeral or a memorial service.

While such services have been understood in many varying ways, the human function is to set an experiential marker at the end point of life to place a cairn at the conclusion of one human being’s journey.

The Cairns along a wilderness trail are built of rocks of various shapes and sizes. The memorial cairn at the end of a life is also a composite, but an experiential one. It is made up of the memories, the thoughts and the feelings of all who are gathered to celebrate the life of the departed. It is a recollection of what was for a time together and is now scattered and scattering. Here is the one we knew. We think of how our lives were touched by him and what he meant and his memory continues to mean to us.

At the end of a life, we compose a symphony, an ordered creation whose notes and themes are the experiences of the people gathered. Themes dark and bright are sounded to recollect and order the impact of the life of the one who has died – honestly, fully, tenderly – and in the spirit of thanksgiving for the quality of
that lived life.

Our recollections of Hamish should strive to evoke remembrance, thanksgiving, a sense of the uniqueness of his life, a sense of the privilege of having known him, a sense of loss, of sadness, a feeling of emptiness, of unsureness and a hint that the ending of his life is a rehearsal of what is to come for everyone of us, ultimately.

Transcending our memories of Hamish should be a developing sense of trust in the slow, but steady, grace of healing and the affirmation that we live on and will live on, blessed by his life and by the memory of he who once was and is now gone, but who is and will be present in the world and in us in mysterious and
hidden ways.

We should also be mindful that existence, ours included, is a continuum, ever changing, yet, in a real sense, not really. Elder Olson put it so well in “The Exegesis:”

Nothing is lost; be still; the universe is honest
Time, like the sea, gives all back in the end,
But only in its own way, on its own conditions:
Empires as grains of sand, force as coal,
Mountains as pebbles. Be still; be still, I say;
You were never the water, only a wave;
Not substance, but a form substance assumed.

And in the words of Langston Hughes:

Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing –
Never to kill –
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same –

Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name.

Finally, it is important to remember that, albeit death awaits all of us along the path of life, it is, nonetheless, part and parcel of life. For without it, there would be no life. And as stated by one far more eloquent than I:

Look to this day! For it is life, the very life of life.
In it’s brief course lies all the verities and realities of
your existence: The bliss of growth, the glory of action,
the splendor of beauty;

For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a
vision; but today, well lived, makes every yesterday a
dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!

The Commitment

In placing the ashes of Hamish MacTaggart in this hallowed ground, we think again of all that our dear son, brother, companion and friend meant and means to us. We dedicate this simple plot, amid these natural surroundings, to every beautiful and precious memory associated with him.

We lay these ashes in that gentle earth which has been the chief support of humankind, since first they walked beneath the sun. To all human beings, to all living forms, the soil has ever provided the sustenance that is the staff of life. To that good earth we now commit the ashes of our friend and say with the poet Shelley:

He made one with Nature: there is heard.
His voice in all her music, from the moan.
Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird;
He is a presence to be felt and known.
In darkness and in light, from herb and stoneā€¦

He is a portion of the loveliness
Which once he made more lovely.


Now the work is left to us, the living, to carry forth the beauty and joy of that life which has been taken from us. Where we weep, Hamish would have us laugh. Where we mourn, Hamish would have us rejoice. But we know that he will forgive us our grief, for to grieve is to love, to love is to cherish, and to cherish is to give praise and thanksgiving for the life which has blessed us all.

To that life we pray courage and strength, that our frailty be forgiven, our sorrows redeemed, the wounds of our loss healed, in the sure knowledge that life moves forward and does not tarry with yesterday, and that the life before us beckons to greater glory as the only memorial that is fitting and just.

Let us depart in peace and look to the morning, assured that tomorrow the sun will rise again. Life gives and life takes away:

Blessed be life, above all, forever.

May the truth that makes us free, the hope that never dies and the love that casts out fear lead us forward together until the dayspring breaks, and the shadows flee away. Amen.

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