funeral sermon, June 2005

+In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit+

My friends in Christ, none of us who are here today want to be here. Some of us would rather be at home or in our rooms. Some of us would rather be working or taking a nap. Some of us would rather be in New York or Chicago or Colorado. Yet we’re all here today, from many different places, for one reason: Sara wanted us to be here. Sara had to go…and Sara wanted us to have a party to say goodbye.

It’s an awkward party. We didn’t want Sara to die…but she did. Her family and friends are sad and angry and upset and hurt. They feel robbed. How do you have a party under those circumstances? How do you reconcile all those emotions with the fact that we are here today to celebrate Sara?

When Ron and Vaughn and I got together with Sara’s family yesterday to plan this service I was astounded to find out what an incredible person Sara was. As I drove home I began to feel angry because Sara was the kind of person I would have loved knowing. She loved parties…she loved throwing parties. She was hospitable…and she loved all things done well…whether that be a party, a play, a piece of music…or something as simple as a present wrapped in paper and a bow. He sister described her as a princess…and I wish I could have known Sara because she was the most magical of princesses. (I know that because her family told me her stuffed bear talked with her.)

Sara’s family wanted me to thank the staff at Carmel Hills Living Center for their compassionate care. Your dedication to Sara’s comfort and quality of life are deeply appreciated. They also asked me to thank Diane Huxol and Jim Zellmer for the devoted friendship that they have given Sara though the years. Diane was a loyal friend and was with Sara when Ron first visited her in hospital last week. When the family mentioned Jim’s name I smiled; Jim and Ellen were parishioners at Resurrection at one time. I know Jim to be a fine and gentle man. Sara could not have had better friends than Diane and Jim.

So, we are here because Sara wanted us to be here. Ron and I are here to offer our spiritual help. It’s not my job to make everything better and it’s not Ron’s job to give you all the right answers. That’s your job…grief is difficult and we all respond to grief differently. Each of you will have to reconcile life without Sara in your own way.

Sara was a devout Episcopalian, so it’s our job to help you understand what we as Episcopalians feel about death. For me, the best way to do that is to tell you a story.

In my secular employment I work as a registered nurse. I’ve worked for 23 years in critical care. Sixteen years ago I took care of a man who had been bedridden for many years with a degenerative spinal condition. One night, for whatever reason, he put his call light on, and after I was done caring for him, he asked, “Jon, do you have a moment?” I sat down by his bed and he told me that he wasn’t afraid to die. He told me that when he was a much younger man he and his late wife had a daughter who was born with muscular dystrophy. She spent her entire life in a wheelchair and died when she was 19 years old. He then told me this…and this is the amazing part: “Jon, three months ago I had a bleeding ulcer and I was taken to surgery and I died on the operating table. I was taken to a peaceful place full of love and full of light. I saw my wife and my family and friends. I heard my daughter calling and I turned toward her voice. She came running toward me shouting, “Look, Dad, I’m whole here! I’m whole here!”” He then said, “Jon, I will miss this place…this good earth. I will miss my friends and my family. I will miss the warm sun, a cool breeze, and the way a hand feels in mine…but I’m not afraid to die because I know I’m going to a better place.”

This story speaks to us as Episcopalians because we know in our hearts that the end of this life is the beginning of eternal life. The bond with God that Sara received in her baptism is indissoluble. Her sad and tragic death after a courageous battle with MS has brought her into the arms of our loving God. In that sense, we rejoice.

Kevin, Matthew, Jane…it is my deep and abiding prayer that as your mend, you’ll hear Sara’s voice saying, “Look guys, I’m whole here! I’m whole here!”

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