ORDER OF SERVICE:
[About 20 minutes of appropriate music, live or recorded, to be played as family and friends gather.]
Let us be honest with death. Let us not pretend that it is less than it is. It is separation. It is sorrow. It is grief. But let us neither pretend that death is more than it is. It is not annihilation. As long as memory endures, his influence will be felt. It is not an end to love — humanity’s need for love from each of us is boundless. It is not an end to joy and laughter — nothing would less honor one so vibrant than to make our lives drab in counterfeit respect! Let us be honest with death, for in that honesty we will understand him better and ourselves more deeply.
No one entering this world can ever escape sadness. Each in turn must bear burdens, though he or he be rich or poor, and in turn bid loved ones farewell as they set out upon life’s ventures. Each one must suffer that sad farewell when loved one’s embark on the last voyage, and each in turn must take that final journey. But for those who make this life a pledge to the human spirit, there comes the assurance of a victory that redeems life’s pain.
[LIGHT CANDLE] Though we be but the feeble glow of a single flame, for the one who keeps it burning bravely to the end, death is not defeat. We light our candle today to honor the life and living of Steve.
We have gathered here in this room to acknowledge the death of Steve whom we have known and loved. When someone we have cared for dies, family and friends gather with sorrow in their hearts. At times when we must face death and loss, we need one another’s company for understanding and support. Just to be together, to look into one another’s faces, takes away some of our loneliness and draws our hearts together in the healing which we can offer one another. At such times, the ways that sustain us separately come together in a virtual harmony that acts across all creeds and assures us of the permanence of human goodness and hope. So we are gathered here today in grief and sorrow, but we have also gathered to celebrate a life. We have come together to give thanks we knew this vibrant person, to express our gratitude for the days and years we were able to share with him. We are here to remember and memorialize a good and caring life. By remembering the best of this person, by recalling some his finest qualities, by honoring the principles, values, and dreams which guided his life, some of Steve’s enduring nobility flows into us, that we ourselves might be more noble in the days ahead. We are gathered for all these things. But our first task is to face, full and unafraid, the reality of this death and the grief and loss we feel.
Centuries ago the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote:
“In the presence of death, we must continue to sing the song of life. We must be able to accept death and go from it’s presence better able to bear our burdens and to lighten the load of others. Out of our sorrows should come understanding. Through our sorrows, we join with all of those before who have had to suffer and all of those who will yet have to do so. Let us not be gripped by the fear of death. If another day be added to our lives, let us joyfully receive it, but let us not anxiously depend on our tomorrows. Though we grieve the deaths of our loved ones, we accept them and hold on to our memories as precious gifts. Let us make the best of our loved ones while they are with us, and let us not bury our love with death.”
No one 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, unbounded by events of birth and death. And as living memories, we possess the greatest gift one person can give another. It is each of you, then, that the living memories of Steve’s life are committed. To your hearts and minds go the enduring remembrances of this life. There will now be a period of silence. I ask that each of you use these moments to remember Steve as only you can. Let us enter this meditation with reverence and with love.
[After roughly 1-3 minutes . . . ]
Now, as your spirit moves you to do so, please share your living memories of Steve with the rest of his family and friends.
Some of you have selected several readings which are appropriate on this day as we acknowledge the death and celebrate the life of Steve. [Readings are shared.]
And finally, the Native American Ishi people of the Pacific Northwest, who imagined that their dead spoke to them saying “When I am dead, cry for me a little, think of me sometimes, but not too much. It is not good for you to allow your thoughts to dwell too long upon the dead. Think of me now and again as I was in life, at some moment which is pleasant to recall, but not for too long. Leave me in peace, as I shall too leave you in peace. While you live, let your thoughts be with the living.”
It is done. We have bid loving farewell to Steve.
We are profoundly glad that Steve lived. We are glad that we saw his face and felt the glow of his friendship and love. We cherish the memory of his words and deeds and character. Carrying him thus in our hearts, let us now proceed from this place in comfort and in peace, assured that even in this time of loss and sorrow, life remains precious and good. May we also on this day rekindle in our hearts an appreciation for the gifts of life and other persons. Let us honor the life of Steve by living, ourselves, more nobly and loving in the days ahead. As you return to the routines of your lives, go in love, and may an abiding peace go with you.
Copyright 1999, Larry Reyka
So long as profit is not your motive and you always include this copyright notice, please feel free to reproduce and distribute this material in electronic form as widely as you please.
Nonprofit Humanist publications have additional permission to republish this in print form. All other permission must be sought from Larry Reyka