Memorial Service

This is a draft that I often share with families who are getting together to plan a memorial service.  It helps them to focus on the various parts of a service and think about how they want to present it.


Opening Words and Welcome

 “We come together from the diversity of our grieving,
to gather in the warmth of this community
giving stubborn witness to our belief that
in times of sadness, there is room for laughter.
In times of darkness, there always will be light.
May we hold fast to the conviction
that what we do with our lives matters
and that a caring world is possible after all.”
(M. Maureen Killoran)

Good morning/afternoon. My name is Anne Klaeysen, and I am a Leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture.  I welcome you into this time and space that are made sacred with the spirit of love and friendship you bring as you gather to remember and mourn _____________.  We come together as family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues: co-creators of a community that includes those present but also family and friends who could not be here today.

A memorial service is an act of loving leave-taking and a celebration of life.  We don’t need protection from grief, but rather time and the means to express it, to experience it, and to live through it.  A memorial service is for those who have loved and lost, who miss loved ones and must go on living without them.  Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth: “Give sorrow words.  The grief that does not speak/Whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.”

This morning/afternoon we will give sorrow words: some of you will share your memories; others will sit quietly and reflect; together we will invoke ____________’s spirit and celebrate his/her life.

Memorial Portrait and Readings
This part combines shared memories and readings by selected family and friends.  See “Selected Readings” below.  You can let me know who will say what or leave it open until the memorial service.  I will help you choreograph this part so that it flows well.

Shared Memories Circle
During the next few minutes, I invite you to share something of what it has meant to you to experience ____________’s companionship, wisdom or humor in your own lives.  You may wish to share a memory or say something about how your life has been enriched by her/him.  In this way, we make _________ present among us.  Please speak briefly so there will be time for several people to speak.  Please stand and say who you are, and speak loudly enough for all to hear.  If there are silent spaces between speakers, we can use this time to nourish a silent memory.

Closing
Felix Adler, founder of Ethical Culture said “The dead are not dead if we have loved them truly. In our own lives we can give them a kind of immortality. Let us arise and take up the work they have left unfinished.”  Take a moment to remember what you most admired about _________. Remember what most endeared him/her to you.  Have it?  Good.  Hold on to it.  Now imagine incorporating that quality, that gift into your own life.  Love him/her, honor him/her, give him/her immortality by taking up the work he/she has left unfinished.

The act is done.  The words have been said.
The gate of the coming hour
now opens to us in peace.
Let us go through with thanksgiving for all that we said and did in this hour.
Blessed is the mystery of life and death, which is our own.
And blessed be Love forever.

Selected Readings
“The dead are not dead if we have loved them truly. In our own lives we can give them a kind of immortality. Let us arise and take up the work they have left unfinished. . .”

“The good deeds we have done, the nobler traits of character we have developed – these are imperishable.”

“Let us learn from the lips of death the lessons of life. Let us live truly while we live, live for what is true and good and lasting. And let the memory of our dead help us to do this.”

“A great man helps us by the standard which he erects. He never really is level with his own standard, and yet we do not therefore reject him. He helps us by what he earnestly tries for, and by what he suggests to us that we should try for he helps us, not so much by what he achieves, as by what he reveals, by the insight which he gives us into the nature of good.”
(from Felix Adler, “Life and Destiny”)

“Invocation” by Algernon Black, Ethiucal Culture Leader

This is the call to the living,
To those who refuse to make peace with evil,
With the suffering and waste of the world.

This is the call to the human, not the perfect,
To those who know their own prejudices,
Who have no intention of becoming prisoners of their own limitations.

This is a call to those who remember the dreams of their youth.
Who know what it means to share food and shelter,
The care of children and those who are troubled,
To reach beyond the barriers of the past
Bringing people into communion.

This is a call to the never-ending spirit
Of the common man, his essential decency and integrity,
His unending capacity to suffer and endure,
To face death and destruction and to rise again
And build from the ruins of life.

This is the greatest call of all
The call to a faith in people.
To believe in freedom, we have to believe in people.

 

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; . . .
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance; . . .
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
(from Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible)

A long time I have lived with you
And now we must be going
Separately to be together.
Perhaps I shall be the wind
To blur your smooth waters
So that you do not see your face too much.
Perhaps I shall be the star
To guide your uncertain wings
So that you have direction in the night.
Perhaps I shall be the fire
To separate your thoughts
So that you do not give up.
Perhaps I shall be the rain
To open up the earth
So that your seed may fall.
Perhaps I shall be the snow
To let your blossoms sleep
So that you may bloom in spring.
Perhaps I shall be the stream
To play a song on the rock
So that you are not alone.
Perhaps I shall be a new mountain
So that you always have a home.
(by Nancy Wood)

Hold on to what is good
even if it is
a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
even if it is
a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
even if it is
a long way from here.
Hold on to life even when
it is easier letting go.
Hold on to my hand even when
I have gone away from you.
(by Nancy Wood)

Let me die, working.
Still tackling plans unfinished, tasks undone!
Clean to its end, swift may my race be run.
No laggard steps, no faltering, no shirking;
Let me die, working!

Let me die, thinking.
Let me fare forth still with an open mind,
Fresh secrets to unfold, new truths to find,
My soul undimmed, alert, no question blinking;
Let me die, thinking.

Let me die, giving.
The substance of life for life’s enriching;
Time, things, and self on heaven converging,
No selfish thought, loving, redeeming, living;
Let me die, giving.
(by S. Hall Young)

You shall ask
What good are dead leaves
And I will tell you
They nourish the sore earth.
You shall ask
What reason is there for winter
And I will tell you
To bring about new leaves.

You shall ask
Why are the leaves so green
And I will tell you
Because they are rich with life.

You shall ask
Why must summer end
And I will tell you
So that leaves will die.
(Native American Indian)

When I am dead
Cry for me a little.
Think of me sometimes
But not too much.
It is not good for you
Or your wife or your husband
Or your children
To allow your thoughts to dwell
Too long on the dead.
Think of me now and again
As I was in life
At some moment it is pleasant to recall.
But not for long.
Leave me in peace
And I shall leave you, too, in peace.
While you live
Let your thoughts be with the living.
(Native American Prayer)

“We come together from the diversity of our grieving,
to gather in the warmth of this community
giving stubborn witness to our belief that
in times of sadness, there is room for laughter.
In times of darkness, there always will be light.
May we hold fast to the conviction
that what we do with our lives matters
and that a caring world is possible after all.”
(by M. Maureen Killoran)

“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.”
(by Shakespeare in “Macbeth”)

“A Litany of Remembrance” by Roland B. Gittelsohn
In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us,
as we remember them.

If I should die before the rest of you,
Break not a flower, nor inscribe a stone,
Nor, when I’m gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known,
Weep if you must:
Parting is hell,
But life goes on
So . . .sing as well!
(from a poem by Joyce Grenfell)

Sing! Let us sing out,
Sing out again so our hearts may burst into flame
And our burning blood may finally melt these chains.
So that in the depth of the blackest night
The sun shines forever.
(by Hien Luong)

Time is too slow for those who wait; too swift
for those who fear; too long for those who grieve;
too short for those who rejoice. But for those
who live, Time is Eternity. Hours fly, flowers
die, new days new ways pass by. Love stays.
(Inscription on a sundial at the University of Virginia)

“For death does not end life but is part of it, one of nature’s transformations as we work our way through its cycles. Death informs life. It is not simply the mother of beauty; it is the mother of life itself for how could we conceive of life if there were no death? And it is only because we conceive of life that we know we must taste it lingeringly, try every flavor and nuance, drink in experience while we can. Death and life are dependent upon each other, like order and chaos, neither concept being possible without the other. So there should be no fear of death, which is omnipresent, part of life. Welcome it into your arms, for it is but rest; for you lie in nature like a heartbeat.”
(from Willam Butler Yeats)

I have loved and have been loved,
The sun has caressed my face.
Life, you owe me nothing,
Life, we are at peace.
(from poet Pablo Neruda)

This song of mine will wind its music around you like the fond arms of love
This song of mine will touch your forehead like a kiss of blessing.
When you are alone it will sit by your side and whisper in your ear;
When you are in a crowd it will fence you in with aloofness.
My song will be like a pair of wings to your dreams;
it will transport your heart to the verge of the unknown.
It will be like a faithful star overhead when dark night is over your road.
My song will sit in the pupils of your eyes, and will carry your sight into the heart
of things.
And when my voice is silent in death, my song will speak in your living heart.
(by Rabindranath Tagore)

At the grave site:
We are here to return the elements
that made up the body of ___________ to the earth:
earth, air, fire and water,
joined by the ligaments of the spirit,
the bindings of life and love.

Ashes to ashes,
dust to dust,
memory to memory,
story to story,
gratitude to gratitude,
spirit to spirit,
love to love.
The wheel turns ever,
and what came out of the earth
returns to it now in peace.
The wheel turns ever,
yet whatsoever love and grace and gift
we know from _____ is at the center of that wheel,
the center which turns not, but remains as constant as the flow of time.

Earth, air, fire, water,
receive your own. We stint you not.
But leave us what is ours forever.

The act is done. The words have been said.
The gate of the coming hour
now opens to us in peace.
Let us go through with thanksgiving for all that we said and did in this hour.
Blessed is the mystery of life and death, which is our own.
And blessed be Love forever.

“I Am Not There” – anonymous

Do not stand at my grave
and weep.
I am not there.
I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds
that blow.
I am the diamond glints
on snow.
I am the sunlight
on ripened grain.
I am the gentle
autumn rain.
When you awaken
in the morning’s hush.
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds
in circled flight.
I am the soft stars
that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave
and cry.
I am not there; I did not die.

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