Yesterday I was sitting in New Paltz eating Tibetan dumplings reflecting on the graveside service I officiated for a long-time member of our church. Something happened during the memorial that I’ve never experienced and it was incredibly beautiful.

First, the cemetery is located in a flatland with the rising Gunks and Mohonk in the background. She helped get that land protected which is now enjoyed by all. She also helped the Eleanor Roosevelt residence become a National Historic Site. Stunning what one life can do for others.

All the family, including the deceased, moved out of the region many years ago. Though we had exchanged emails, this was the first time meeting the bereaved children, who are in their 70s. Their mom was 100!

I park in the cemetery, walk over and chat with the funeral directors, who are bright and passionate about caring for people. I also talk with the children. They rejoice at their mom’s greatly lived life. They also tell me that two weeks ago they buried their sister, aged 73. She died of a very rare disease with no cure. She lived six months after diagnosis. Devastating.

They introduced me to their sister’s mourning, widower husband. A big man who was kind and pleasant to talk with. The service begins. As usual, I stand near the headstone. The family, seated to my left, shares touching memories. Some present laugh, some cry. In the mid-distance, fresh snow has fallen on Mohonk mountain. The colors of the leaves on the trees are dappled – some bright, some faded, some fallen. I conclude with a liturgical statement that is simple, powerful, and striking: “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ we commend _____ to her resting place . . . she will rest in peace and she will rise in glory. Amen.” The picture I have in my mind at a moment like this is that this dear soul has now received the warm, wide welcome of heaven, and is now in the presence of God. All that was lost is given back.

It is now time for the family to stand and move about the loving assembly of family and friends. I hug and give assurances to the children. Next is their brother-in-law who has understandably fallen through emotionally. Grief shakes his body as he comes. Once strangers, now allies in the tumultuous fight of love, we hug and he cries on my shoulder. He then says with a quaking voice in my right ear, “This morning we placed my wife’s urn with her mother. They were so alike. Now they are with one another forever.”

Daughter in the arms of her mother, both in the arms of God.


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