In Memoriam

I had planned on posting this piece sooner, but it hasn’t been the right time. However, it is important to me to post it – to get it out there. It’s important to me for two reasons: one, I want to share the service I wrote so that others can use it (or parts of it) if it is helpful to them, and two, I’m just pretty damned proud of how I was able to let Spirit flow through me in order to express what was needed.

I wrote about the experience of communion surrounding the death and birth of my nephew Galen in a previous post. My sister, Galen’s mother Ashley, has also shared some of her thoughts on her own blog, including what she read at the memorial.

galen n ash

I knew that funerals and memorials were an important part of my ministry, but I hadn’t had a chance to put it into practice until about a month ago. Little did I know that my first experience into this kind of service would be so close to home. On February 25th, 2015, friends and family gathered together to say goodbye to Galen. It was another moment full of both pain and blessings.

Baldwin-Fairchild Funeral Home provided cremation services and the place for the memorial free of charge. That was a blessing right there. And in a way, the ritual of funerals and memorials are in themselves a blessing. In this western culture, these few moments in these contexts are often the only times we allow ourselves to give over to mourning, and especially to express our grief to the outside world.

This mourning, this communication and embodiment of our grief, is healing. It may be only the first step on the journey of healing, but it is critical. Without the exploration of our grief and the expression of it, we are held in that moment indefinitely. Our bodies may move on and participate in the world around us, but we will never be able to be fully present in the moment of now without being fully able to mourn.

So I took to heart the potential of healing in this moment as I wrote the memorial. The writing of it was healing to me. The tears flowed as I wrote my heart, but I also prayed for guidance that my words and actions would provide what Ashley and the other mourners needed as well.

I feel I was able to do that. So please, if this will help you or someone you know in the loss of a baby to stillbirth, do use it however is best for the circumstances.

Memorial Honoring Galen

Thank you all for being here. We gather together to express our love and appreciation of Galen and what he has shared with us. And we gather together to share our grief with one another. It may not seem like it, but grieving in community is a huge gift to all involved. It is so very, very important. Ashley has appreciated the outpouring of love and support that has flooded in since she announced that Galen had already left this world before he had fully entered it. The support she had in person at the hospital during her long, difficult labor was powerful, beautiful, and life-affirming. The support she has had through texts, phone calls, Facebook messages, offers to help at home and with Aiden (Galen’s six-year-old brother), as well as monetary support, has been astounding. We are beyond grateful.

As we come together in this sacred time and place, I invite you to join me in the opening song. We’ll sing it through four times.

Opening Song
The River is Flowing (traditional)

The River, She is flowing,
Growing and flowing.
The River, She is flowing down to the sea.
Mother, carry me, your child I will always be.
Mother, carry me down to the sea.

I’ve thought a lot about what I want to share today. I keep coming back to two things: the Great and Powerful Love that has been shared and multiplied a hundredfold surrounding Galen and Ashley and Aiden in the last few months and days; and the deep, deep need to express our grief.

Malidoma Patrice Somé is a West African diviner and medicine man. He was also educated in the west and holds multiple post-graduate degrees from Brandeis University and the Sorbonne. In his book Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community, he expresses his bewilderment at his first encounter with expression of grief (or lack thereof) in the west, noting that “people appear to pride themselves for not showing how they feel about anything.” He goes on to tell us that in his culture “grief is seen as food for the psyche. Just as the body needs food, the psyche needs grief to maintain its own healthy balance.”

In a way, our grief did feed us as Ashley labored to give birth to Galen. During those long, exhausting hours, she sometimes gave her full concentration to the rushes, the contractions, to bringing Galen into the world. At times she despaired and would momentarily give in to the overwhelming pain and unfairness of the situation. At times she distracted herself and the rest of us (there were sometimes up to seven of us there supporting her) with her musings and her irrepressible humor. But the times I will cherish the most are the times we actively shared our sorrow. Our tears co-mingled in a holy communion of love too beautiful to describe.

I also want to acknowledge Aiden, and his loss. He expresses his grief and distress in ways that may be confusing to us adults, but as his six-year-old self, he experiences those feelings every bit as much as any one of us here. And he still has the feelings of displacement and change that any new big brother experiences, especially since he is only able to be with his mom for short periods each day as she begins her recovery. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers as well. As you’re able to, let him know that you care and that you see him as an important person.

At this point, Ashley’s Dad, her sister Crystal, and then Ashley herself shared their reflections about Galen and what he had brought to this world. You can read Ashley’s reflections here.

Flower Communion
Please come up and take a flower from this vase and place it on the altar. If you wish, you may share your thoughts for Galen and Ashley. After you have placed the flower on the altar, I invite you to take a few moments with Ashley to connect with her and express your caring through a word or a hug or in some other way that you are moved. Once you have done that, we ask that you start forming a circle around Ashley and hold out your hands toward her. Visualize light coming from the palms of your hands. This light is a visual representation of love from Creator and the love you have been sending her this entire time…

As I mentioned at the beginning, one of the purposes of this gathering is to express our appreciation for Galen and the gifts he has shared with us. It is my personal belief that Galen came to this world in this lifetime in order to experience unconditional love and acceptance. He received that in abundance. Despite adversity, Ashley, and those around her, showered Galen with love and acceptance from the moment he was conceived. He received what he needed, and had no more need from this world in this lifetime. His soul may come back for another purpose in another lifetime, but for now, his spirit and his soul are at peace. He received the gift of love that he needed. I would like to share a poem by Mary Yarnall that expresses this very thought:

This was a life that had hardly begun
no time to find your place in the sun
no time to do all you could have done
but we loved you enough for a lifetime

No time to enjoy the world and its wealth
No time to take life down off the shelf
no time to sing the song of yourself
though you had enough love for a lifetime

Those who live long endure sadness and tears
but you’ll never suffer the sorrowing years
no betrayal, no anger
no hatred, no fears
Just love, only love in your lifetime

Galen also gave the gift of love. He not only gave Ashley another way to express her love as a mother, he gave all of us here – in body and spirit – a way to express our love and to come together in community. I remind us all not to squander that gift. Let us cherish it and make it grow. Let us take it with us as we go forth today. Take it into our hearts. Take it into our homes. Take it into our communities and the wide world. Let us take this love that Galen has given us and make it shine enough to light the whole Universe.

Closing Song
Please join me in the final song as we remember to share the love we have experienced today with the all those we encounter.

This Little Light of Mine (traditional)

This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

This little tear of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little tear of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little tear of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

This BIG love of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This big love of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
This big love of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it SHINE!


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