Rev. Dr. Maureen Killoran, MA, DMin
Unitarian Universalist Transition Minister
Professional Transitions Specialist
Memorial Services
Even more profoundly even than with weddings, each memorial service or funeral must be unique, crafted to honor both the life and the belief system of the person who has died -- and at the same time respecting the needs of the family who will be gathered for the ceremony.   It has been my privilege to celebrate nearly 250 memorial services, each of which occupies a special place in my heart.

I include one service text here; I am happy to send additional material
on request.
~ Maureen Killoran


A Celebration of the Life of Charlotte H.

We gather in celebration of the ageless truth

That, as no one of us lives alone,

Therefore, no one dies alone;

The passing of any diminishes us.

The society in which we live

Is made forever less

For the stillness which

From this time forth must be.

We gather to honor Charlotte and to celebrate her life.  Charlotte, . . . wife of D. for almost 60 years, mother of B., grandmother of J. and W.

 
Charlotte H., . . . teacher and traveler . . . political activist and painter . . . lover of dogs and family and a passionate believer in justice . . . We come to honor Charlotte H., and to celebrate her life.

In the presence of life, we say NO to death.  
In the presence of death, we say YES to life.  (white candle kindled from chalice)

There are some leavings that are sudden, and others that take place gradually, stretching themselves over time.  Such as Charlotte’s leave-taking of this world . . . As I reflect on her gradual distance, the slipping from her passionate engagement with people, with politics, with those she loved, I am reminded of the poet, who wrote:

Our mothers depart from us,

gently depart

                        on tiptoe,

but we sleep soundly,

                                    stuffed with food,

and fail to notice this dread hour.

our mothers do not leave us suddenly,

                                                            no –

it only seems so “sudden.”

Slowly they depart, and strangely,

with short steps down the stairs of years. . . .  

(Yevgeny Yevtushenko, trans. G. Reavey)


As we gather in this time of recollection, we are acutely aware of the paradox that no matter how much time we have to spend together, it can never be enough.
  When one we love departs, there is a hole in the universe that only memory can begin to fill.  Reflecting on losses in her own life, poet May Sarton wrote: 

Did someone say that there would be an end,

An end, Oh, an end, to love and mourning?

Such voices speak when sleep and waking blend,

The cold bleak voices of the early morning

When all the birds are dumb in dark November --

Remember and forget, forget, remember. . . 

 

 . . The dead move through all of us still glowing,

Mother and child, friend and lover mated,

Are wound and bound together and enflowing.

What has been plaited cannot be unplaited --

Only the strands grow richer with each loss

And memory makes kings and queens of us.

 

 It is right that those whom Charlotte touched should gather here to mourn – and yet, it is true also that those we hold most dear never truly leave us . . . they live on in the kindnesses they showed, the comfort they shared, the lives they influenced for learning and for justice,  and the love they brought into our lives. 

 In a moment, there are others who will speak of how they knew Charlotte, how she touched their lives . . . and after this service, we hope you will share stories of memory during the reception in the foyer.   I suspect, though I may be wrong, I suspect it is unlikely any of Charlotte’s students will be here to bear witness to how she touched their lives . . . and I want to speak, therefore, of her contribution as a teacher.   Business education, that was Charlotte’s field – whether working with individual students, or organizing whole departments, Charlotte helped hundreds of high school students gain the tools they needed to gain meaningful work and live productive lives.  These same skills . . . organization, persistence, clarity of thought . . . showed up, of course, in other aspects of her life, but I honor now the gift that Charlotte was to the lives of so many young people, and how this gift rippled out through the countless families they created and the children they have borne.  It could have been of Charlotte that Henri Nouwen was thinking when he wrote,

 Although we have only one life cycle to live,

although it is only a small part of human history

which we will cover,

to do this gracefully and carefully [as she did,]

[this] is our greatest vocation.

Whether it was creating the beauty of her oil paintings . . . traveling throughout the world with her beloved husband . . . her engagement in this religious community which she and D. joined in 1998, caring for the dogs that were so much a part of their lives . . . cooking, baking, making chocolate cake . . . or confronting the world’s significant problems through party politics or the League of Women Voters, Charlotte will be remembered for her keen intelligence, her forthright honesty, and her commitment. 

 [SHARING FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS]

It is right that honor be given, and it is right also that tears of love and memory are shed, for this vital woman’s living time has ended.   I recall the words of the poet (George C. Whitney, adapted):

             Who shall be brave enough to sing

            When this, the tired leaf is fallen?

                        We shall, the living

                        For whom death, dark mother,

                        Waits in turn beyond the sighing

                        Of the wind.

            Who shall be brave enough to fling

            Remembrance, for the taking,

            In the face of happiness bereft?

                        We shall, in giving

                        Of our love – in garlands and in loyalty –

                        To all our bright tomorrows

            And to her. 

 MUSIC

The words I am about to read are from an unknown writer; they were given to me in one of my times of sorrow:

             I have lived.  It is your turn now.  It is in you that my life will be prolonged.  I pass to you my powers.  . . .  I hand to you my hopes and dreams.  Take my joy.  Let your happiness increase that of others.  Work and strive for the common good.  Accept no evil that you might change.  Keep saying to yourself, “It lies with me.  It lies with me.”

             Do not meekly accept the life that is offered to you.  Never cease to be convinced that life might be better – your own and another’s.  Do not accept what is.  As soon as you begin to understand that it is not God but human beings who are responsible for life’s problems, from that moment on you will no longer resign yourself to bearing them. 

             I have lived.  It is your turn now.  I pass to you my powers.

We do not know what happens in the mystery of death. We know only that an energy that was among us is not there any more.  Scriptures and teachers have spoken on this, and there are certainties expressed in many houses of faith . . . but the reality is that we do not know, and loss is something given to us.  Loss is something we must deal with, we who remain.  May there be comfort for our hearts in these words from the ancient Hebrew scripture: 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

 A time to kill, and a time to heal; 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;

 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. . .

And this wisdom from Adlai Stevenson: 

May we have grace and strength to persevere. 

May we have courage and gaiety and quiet of mind.
May we have strength to encounter that which is to come,
that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation,
temperate in wrath and in all changes of fortune . . .
and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another.


PLEASE JOIN ME IN THE SPIRIT OF MEDITATION AND PRAYER:   Spirit of Life, and so also our companion at times of death, be with all who gather here in their hour of sadness.  Help us to recall that we come into the world in mystery and we go away the same.  Give us strength to feel the blessing of connection which goes deeper than human knowing, and hope enough to honor the gifts of life even in dark days. May we be nourished by faith in times of uncertainty, and by the ability to challenge received wisdom when that is what must be done.

Be with D. and all Charlotte’s family and friends. Keep them open to the love that remains for them, ever-renewing in the world. 

May we release Charlotte’s spirit to the winds of time . . . May we remind ourselves that what is done, is done, and must be sufficient.  For Charlotte is at peace, and the universe and we are enriched for her having lived.   ~ Amen.

We come to honor Charlotte H.  
    And to celebrate her life. (EXTINGUISH CANDLE)

May the peace which passes understanding,  the peace of God, which the world can neither give nor take away, be among us, and abide in our hearts as we go forward into the world.  

Amen.