Filed under: Funeral News Bits | Tags: cemeteries, cremated remains, religion
Today is the last day to register to give any cremated remains you may have hanging around your house a free final resting place, courtesy of the Catholic Cemetery Association.
Back on September 30, the association announced it is offering a free program that allows families to properly bury the cremated remains of loved ones now being kept at home. The amnesty for ashes program will provide free placement in a crypt at either Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque or Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe.
Here’s the catch: you need to register and bring the ashes to either cemetery by close of business today. They need the information and ashes so they can prepare a plaque to mark everyone’s name before the committal ceremony on Wednesday, November 2, All Souls Day.
It is a religious tradition in the Catholic faith, as well as in the Jewish and Muslim religions, to give every body a final resting place. The growth of cremation has loosened up the final committal of mortal remains, as ashes can easily stay on book shelves, in closets, and other places around the house.
As we saw in a news story not too long ago, a fancy urn holding someone’s mother’s remains was stolen in a home burglary. Don’t let this happen to you!
The deceased does not need to be Catholic for you to take advantage of this offer.
And your loved ones will get grandpoohbahs presiding! Archbishop Michael Sheehan will preside over the service at 11:00 a.m. at Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe. The Very Rev. John Cannon will preside at 2:00 p.m. at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque.
Here are the numbers to get this taken care of now!
Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque: 505-243-0218
Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe: 505-983-2322
I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. After 30 funerals in 30 days, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
No, my circle of family and friends has not been decimated. As The Doyenne of Death, I undertook the 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge for three reasons:
- To illustrate the many creative ways people celebrate the lives of those they love.
- To help reduce a fear of talking about death – something that will happen to all of us.
- To show that funerals are a life cycle event much like a wedding, best planned more than a few days ahead of time.
I picked events to cover by reading the obituaries and selecting the most interesting ones that worked within my schedule. Between attending the event and writing up the stories for The Family Plot blog, this project took up three hours a day, every day, for an entire month. I am eager to get this significant chunk of time back.
The ages of the deceased ranged from 25 to 90. Some deaths were expected. Many were unexpected. Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Jewish, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ were among the religious services, and there were plenty of non-religious events.
Early on, there was Howard Strunk’s memorial luncheon at a bowling alley bar. Josie the bartender put it together because Howard’s wife didn’t want to have a funeral for him. Memorial services are for community, not just the family.
Sam Baxter’s celebration at Balloon Fiesta Park took the cake for funeral of the month. He brought the Adams family of balloons to New Mexico in the 1980s. As his first two Adams balloons stood tethered, the several hundred assembled let fly a raft of multi-colored helium balloons. Then more than two-dozen hot air balloons took flight on a perfect day for flying, followed by a tailgate party of grand proportions.
Erika Langholf’s celebration of life was exactly that. The event at a funeral home chapel combined laughter and tears, with many stories told by family and friends. She was born in 1958, which is also the year of my birth. The music reflected the era we both came of age, including Queen, Rod Stewart, Journey, and, reflective of Erika’s killer sense of humor, “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum.
There were also the “facelift funerals.” These events follow the form of a funeral. However, they don’t touch the heart, they are just skin-deep. The only connection to the deceased was the reading of the obituary. These events featured “rent-a-ministers” who did not know the deceased – and admitted it!
Yet, even within the confines of an established ritual, funerals can be personalized. Lonnie Chavez’s funeral at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church followed the form for a funeral Mass. As soon as I walked into the church, I could tell he was a Dallas Cowboys fan – casket, blue star, pallbearers and deceased in football jerseys. What a way to ride off into the sunset.
Yes, I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Three hours a day is a significant investment of time. And now that I am through with the 30-Day Challenge, I have so much more time, or so it seems.
How about you? Do you complain of too much to do and not enough time? How will the people in your life remember you? What legacy will you leave? In what dark valley are you walking?
Today is Create a Great Funeral Day. Don’t fear the Reaper – have a conversation with those you love about what you might want for your “good goodbye.” Your courage will help your family reduce stress at a time of grief, save money, and create a meaningful and memorable life cycle event.
You might want to check out this interview with me on KASA-TV’s New Mexico Style program. We talked about Create a Great Funeral Day, The Newly-Dead Game™, and upcoming presentations for “Funny Films to Start Serious Funeral Planning Conversations.” There’s one today at 2:00 p.m. at the Juan Tabo Library.
You might also take your own 30-Day Challenge and find the time for the things in life that really matter. Take the time to be truly alive. Time is shorter than we all may think.
Erika Langholf would have enjoyed the celebration of life that her children, family and friends put together. A crowd filled the pews in the funeral home chapel as rock music from the 1970s played over the sound system, such as “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart and “You’re My Best Friend” by Queen. A beautiful Himalayan rock salt urn held Erika’s cremated remains, displayed on a stand decorated with the chile ristras she loved to make.
Cese McGowan welcomed everyone, and surveying the crowd said, “It makes me think we should have had this party while she was still here. Words to describe her include bright, funny, talented, a good friend, and a great mom. And she had courage – she wasn’t even frightened of death.”
Erika died at the age of 53 of liver failure. A hoped-for liver transplant did not materialize in time.
“Erika was a comet – brilliant, intense, and only with us for a short while,” said Cese. “She’ll never be ashes, always a fire. Since she didn’t show up for this party, let’s gossip about her and leave here knowing her better than we knew her before.”
She was remembered as a great phrase maker and her sarcastic quips: “I’ll take the blame, but not the responsibility.” “I’m over shit that hasn’t even happened yet.” “Get over it.” “Just peachy.” Several speakers acknowledged lifting her lines for their own use.
David Tucker said “Erika was tough, smart and funny. She knew so much. She’s been to the fair and seen the bear. If I wrote down all of the times she made me laugh, it would be an endless list.”
“It’s hard for me to not see her here, but she’s here,” he said, patting his heart. “You don’t really die until someone says your name for the last time. She’ll be around for a long time to come.”
Husband Doug Lanholf spoke about how he was friends with Erika long before they began dating. When he first asked her out, they went to a steak house and she ordered her prime rib extremely rare, telling the waiter, “Clean its hooves, wipe its ass, and bring it here.” After dinner, they played pool and she beat him handily. She carried her own cue and played in a league.
Before he asked her to marry him, Doug asked her father for the okay. “If you’ve got the guts,” he replied. Honesty with a twist of humor runs in the family. “The girl could make you laugh in the most awkward situations,” he said.
She was remembered as a gardener, a skier, a hunter and fisher, a great cook, and a connoisseur of all things related to chile. She was a great sports fan of baseball, football and NASCAR, particularly Jeff Gordon’s car 24. She loved animals, and took in rabbits, cats, and an abandoned dog, and she had a passion for horses. Her children were always the center of her universe.
“Although her physical presence will be sorely missed, she will live on in my heart, mind and soul,” he concluded.
A parade of friends and co-workers from the post office described a savvy shopper who knew where to get all the great deals, someone who made work fun, and a gym rat who inspired others to join her at the crack of dawn to work out. She was an inspired costume maker who loved Halloween. She was a free-spirited woman who chose her friends, and she touched many lives with her humor and inspiration.
One speaker named Mary spoke about some great road trips she and Erika shared. “We got lost in Mexico twice and were stopped by policemen with AK-47s. She went there to get some dental work done, but she didn’t speak Spanish, except for a few words I can’t say here.”
When she worked at the post office in Santa Fe, she sneaked a few family members up on the roof to get a great view of the fireworks and burning of Zozobra at Fort Marcy Park.
And then there was the story about the buffalo she shot at the Ladder Ranch near Truth or Consequences. She participated in a hunting lottery every year. When she did get the buffalo, the family had quite the buffalo burger feast. The painted skull stood as a tribute to her hunting prowess.
Her daughter got up to speak and thanked the friends here today. “My mom lived such a great life and had so much fun. She touched so many.” Indeed, speakers even included friends of Erika’s children who came out in support.
After the open comments were completed, the closing featured some of Erika’s favorite songs. Friends were invited to continue telling stories at her parents’ house after the memorial service. Attendees rocked out to “Faithfully” by the band Journey, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” by Rod Stewart, “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, and “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
In lieu of flowers, donations to your local Humane Society are encouraged.
May the memory of Erika Langolf burn brightly in the hearts of those who love her.
The life celebration for Waldine Patton took place at Ballut Abyad Shrine Center. She was the First Lady of the Shrine in 2000, when her husband Roy was the Potentate. Along the walls of the Shrine Center, pictures of Potentates for Ballut Abyad stretched back to 1887.
After the family came in and was seated, the song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong played, followed by a moment of silence.William Aber officiated, starting with a prayer:
O Lord support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then Lord, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last.
He spoke words from the Old and New Testament, including Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
He also recited Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want), and John 4 (Let not your hearts be troubled, in my Father’s house there are many rooms).
Waldine Patton wore many hats in her lifetime. She liked to wear hats, as evidenced in the many photos of her. She was a Red Hatter, and eight of those friends were in attendance in full purple and red regalia. For 27 years she owned and operated Krystals NFL Shoppe with her husband Roy. She was active in the Assistance League of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Country Club. And perhaps the hat she was proudest of was the family hat that she wore full of love as a twin sister, wife, mother, grandmother.
She loved gardening, playing bridge, being on any kind of boat – from fishing to cruise liners. She was a wonderful cook who always brought food with her and shared food with her neighbors. Her husband said that she would rather give than receive.
We watched a video montage of photos throughout Waldine’s life, set to the music of Frank Sinatra’s “The Best is Yet to Come” and “Young at Heart.” I thought the lyrics were wonderful for a funeral, and I imagine the song was selected because it described Waldine:
Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you’re young at heart
For it’s hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you’re young at heart
You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love is either in your heart or on it’s way
Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart
For as rich as you are it’s much better by far
To be young at heart
And if you should survive to 105
Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive
Then here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart
After the video, Aber said, “There’s a saying among Masons that ‘The roll of the craftsmen has been called and (name) has not answered. He has gone to the house not made of human hands.’”
“Rest is never an end in itself,” said Aber. “Rest fits us for getting ready to go on. Death is getting ready for a new, rich, rewarding life, just over a horizon we cannot see. Death is scary because none of us has ever died. We don’t know what is over the horizon.”
He likened it to a baby in the womb, who does not yet know the delights that await outside of the warm, dark, wet enclosure where all needs are met. And yet we have a friend waiting for us, someone we know who will bring us to the house of many rooms. Jesus spoke of death as a home, and a home means love.
He quoted Kahlil Gibran: “What is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”
After ending with a prayer of thanks for Waldine, the last song played was “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The family received attendees in the lobby before a reception across the hall in the Fez Club.
I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces all day through
In that small café, the park across the way
The children’s carousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well
I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the mornin’ sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you
I’ll find you in the mornin’ sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you
The funeral home chapel overflowed with people attending the Rosary service for Emmanuel Ceniceros. He died at the age of 25 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident on the freeway. Three hours of visitation preceded the evening Rosary. The funeral service and burial is scheduled take place the next day.
Emmanuel was born in Juarez, Mexico. Except for the funeral director’s welcome and request to turn off cell phones, the entire service was in Spanish.
While I don’t speak or understand that language well, the sounds of sniffling conveyed the sorrow many carried with heavy hearts for this loss. I could make out words like triste (sad), nino (child), and por la familia (for the family).
A quartet of guitarists played and sang religious songs in Spanish. I recognized the tune and could make out some of the words for “How Great Thou Art.” The guitarists played and sang short songs between the five mysteries of the Rosary.
As a woman led the Rosary, attendees joined in responsively. For those who do not know the Hail Mary refrain, here it is in English and Spanish.
Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen
Dios te salve, María, llena eres de gracia, el Señor es contigo. Bendita tú eres entre todas las mujeres, y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesús. Santa María, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros, pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.
Emmanuel lay in an open casket throughout the visitation and service. Four photo boards showed pictures of a young father, basketball enthusiast, and friend. A long stream of visitors paid their respects and hugged family members. He will be missed by those who love him. May he rest in peace.
A rare morning rainbow graced the western sky on the day of (name omitted)’s funeral. At the event, I asked the family for permission to witness and write about the funeral, and they agreed, pending review of the story. I wrote a lovely post that the family got to read in advance, something that no one had yet asked for.
Just got the note this morning saying no. My correspondent wrote: “This is very nice, but what is your purpose for writing this article? I believe it was very inappropriate for you to approach me about doing a story about my Mother’s funeral. The funeral service was a very emotional and somber time for myself and my family. I am not interested in publishing this article.”
I wrote back: I’m sorry you do not approve of the story. My purpose in writing about funerals during the 30 days between September 30 and October 30 is three-fold:
• Illustrate the many creative ways people celebrate the lives of those they love.
• Help reduce a fear of talking about death – something that will happen to all of us.
• Show that funerals are a life cycle event much like a wedding, best planned more than a few days ahead of time.
A removal request happened after one of the events I covered during the 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge last year. One out of 30 seems to be par for the course. Only three more to go.
Did I do wrong? What do you think about this experience?
At the Graveside Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Jim Hubbard, the warmth for his well-lived life was as prevalent as the late October sunshine. The cemetery staff wheeled a portable shade structure next to his grave to give the 100 or so in attendance some shade before the service got underway.
Pastor Don Wilson, recently retired from Heights Cumberland Presbyterian Church, where Jim was a member for a number of years, opened the service saying, “It fascinates me how many connections one life leads to. So many of you here today is an act of God that shows the connections throughout Jim’s life and your lives.”
The service started with a reading of Gospel 1st John 4:7-16 and the 23rd Psalm.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God.
He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love.
By this was God’s love revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another.
No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us.
By this we know that we remain in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God.
We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.
Jim Hubbard’s sons Bill and Jim both shared some warm thoughts about their dad.
The pastor read Bill’s words. In addition to being loving, caring, honorable and truthful, he was blunt, ornery, hard-headed, and stubborn. But mostly, he was “there.” He was there to take people to the hospital, such as when brother Jim stuffed a radish up his nose. He took his sons camping, played catch, supported the baseball leagues his sons played in, and was there for Bill and his wife after they were married.
And now he is not “there” in person, but his love, honor integrity, support and care are still here. Those qualities that he instilled in his family remain and live on.
Brother Jim said in regard to that radish story, he hopes he gets to speak at his brother’s funeral. He commented that many descriptions of the deceased at a funeral are sugarcoated to the point that those in attendance might not know who’s being talked about.
“My dad had no halo. He was often direct,” he said. “If you were the recipient of his directness, I offer my apology. I’ve been on the receiving end numerous times.”
He went on to describe a man of honor, service, integrity, and duty. He never knew his dad to tell a lie, he was always “top-drawer.” He was faithful to his wife for 68 years. “Top that,” became the theme he repeated throughout his comments.
He was a man who played basketball but learned baseball because that’s what his two sons played. He and his wife were always there in the stands, supporting them with their baseball leagues. “Top that.”
He took his sons fishing at Blue Water Lake and Red River. Mom got a vacation while the three of them were gone. He never doubted he was one of the three most important people in his dad’s life, and he still provided a positive influence in such a wide circle of family and friends. “Top that.”
His dad slept through plenty of sermons, but he was more of a “go out there and live it kind of guy.” He was a long term member of Gideon’s International, distributing Bibles to many individuals and locations. He also was a 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, an Emeritus Member of the governing body of the Order of DeMolay, and he served as Master of Albuquerque Lodge #60 AF and AM.
“Jesus didn’t go to seminary, he walked by the Sea of Galilee and called ordinary guys to do ordinary things that matter for eternity,” he said. “Dad was no saint by the standards of the world, but he accomplished things that mattered. Top that.”
Pastor Don spoke a homily based on Luke 13:18-21, about the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast, and Romans 10:4-13, on the word being in your mouth and in your heart, and believing you will be saved. “Jim Hubbard was a man of the Greatest Generation who believed in Jesus. When asked if he was going to go to heaven, he said ‘I sure hope so.’ He is in heaven because of his belief.”
A few verses of “Amazing Grace” were sung a capella. Pastor Don said that this would be a place of memorial. “When you come to visit, remember it’s because of God that Jim’s life matters so much.”
After a benediction, the funeral director presented Jim’s wife Lorraine with a folded American flag in recognition of Jim’s World War II service as a pilot and instructor in the Army Air Corps. Flags for the U.S. Army and the United States were displayed on stands next to the grave.
Memorial donations may be made to Gideon’s International, 111 3rd Street NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102.
The next time you find a Gideon’s Bible in a hotel room, think of Jim Hubbard. May he bask in the warmth of eternal sunshine.
Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, Jewish traditions, rituals
For today’s 30 Funerals in 30 Days post, we go behind the scenes at the funeral home for two tahara rituals. The tahara is the Jewish ritual of washing and dressing the body before burial.
In the Jewish tradition, the body of the deceased is treated with care and respect, extending dignity to the earthly vessel that the human spirit has left behind. This task is undertaken by the local Chevra Kadisha, a volunteer organization that cares for the bodies of the dead according to Jewish law and ancient custom.
Chevra Kadisha is a Hebrew phrase that means “sacred society” or “holy friends.” These anonymous volunteers are not paid for their services, for the act of caring for the dead is a mitzvah (a good deed and true act of loving kindness), because there can be no reciprocity from the deceased. In keeping with the spirit of modesty and respect for the dead, men perform the purification for men, women for women.
I’m a member of our local Chevra Kadisha. Traditionally, the tahara is performed anonymously, so no one knows who helped prepare the body. To maintain this veil, the women who were washed and dressed will not be identified.
This purification ceremony is customarily done on the day of the funeral. However, the Jewish holiday calendar can throw a huge wrench in funeral plans.
The first woman actually died on Wednesday, but she could not be buried until Sunday. That’s because Wednesday evening was Shemini Atzeret and the last day of Sukkot, followed by Simchat Torah on Friday, and the Sabbath on Saturday. No burial may take place on holidays or the Sabbath. The second woman died at sundown on Friday evening, and we did her tahara on Sunday, although she will be buried on Monday.
For today’s taharot (plural of tahara) we had a team of six women to minister to the deceased. Individuals make take turns reading prayers and psalms while tending to the body. Our tradition is to maintain the modesty of the dead by keeping parts of the body not being worked on covered by a sheet. We start by lighting a memorial candle and saying this prayer, “Source of Kindness and Compassion.” The English translation:
Source of kindness and compassion, whose ways are ways of mercy and truth, you have commanded us to act with loving kindness and righteousness toward the dead, and to engage in their proper burial. Grant us the courage and strength to properly perform this work, this holy task of cleaning and washing the body, dressing the dead in shrouds, and burying the deceased.
Guide our hands and hearts as we do this work, and enable us to fulfill this commandment of love. Help us to see your face in the face of the deceased, even as we see You in the faces of those who share this task with us. Source of life and death, be with us now and always.
Before starting, the team stands near the deceased and recite the prayer, “Life of All the Worlds.”
Life of all worlds, have compassion for (name), daughter/son of (names) and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, who followed you in faithfulness. May her/his soul and spirit rest with the righteous, for You give eternal life to those who have died, even as You bring death to the living.
Blessed are You, for when we ask, you pardon and forgive the errors and offenses of the departed of Israel. May it be Your will, God of our ancestors, to bring together a circle of angels of mercy before the deceased, for s/he is Your beloved, the daughter/son of those who sought Your presence.
Rock of all worlds, as You who are attentive to all who struggle, save this soul from pain as s/he travels the path from life to death. Blessed are You, abounding in loving kindness, source of compassion. You are the One who makes peace in the high places for those who love and revere Your name. You are praised, for with compassion You redeem Your people Israel from all suffering.
May it be Your will, God of our mothers and fathers, to remember the merit of the holy covenant: “I will place my Torah in their innermost parts and write it upon their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Blessed are You, O God, maker of the covenant in compassion and mercy. You, O God, are the Source of Goodness; You forgive all who call upon You. “Sweep aside our transgressions like a mist, disperse them like a cloud.” (Yom Kippur morning service).
Blessed are You, generous in counsel and powerfully compassionate. May the one who has died walk with the righteous through the Garden of Eden, the place of those who stand upright in Your presence. Blessed are You, Source of all gentleness and love. Grant mercy to the departed of your people Israel. May this be Your will. Amen.
First, the body is carefully washed with warm water, and all clothing, bandages and foreign objects are removed. Any hair or blood removed during cleansing is put in a bag to be placed in the coffin, to keep as much of the body intact as possible. Water is then poured over the body and the sheet, while one member of the team reads a passage from the Song of Songs. For a woman, the passage is:
How fine you are, my love, your eyes like doves’ behind your veil
Your hair – as black as goats winding down the slopes
Your teeth – a flock of sheep rising from the stream in twos, each with its twin
Your lips – like woven threads of crimson silk
A gleam of pomegranate – your forehead through your veil
Your neck – a tower adorned with shields
Your breasts – twin fawns in fields of flowers
How fine you are, my love, my perfect one.
After the body is washed, it is purified through a mikvah, a ritual bath utilized to mark Jewish life cycle events. We change our protective gloves to mark the transition from physical cleansing to ritual cleansing.
For tahara, water is poured onto the body from pitchers that are passed continuously around until seven passes have been made. Two people pour, while others hold a clean sheet like a chuppah (wedding canopy) over the body and the heads of those pouring.
During this ritual, we chant “Elohai, neshama, shena ta-ta-bi tehora hee,” which means “Oh God, the soul that you have given me is a pure one.” The body is then dried carefully and gently dressed in burial garments.
Burial garments are pure cotton or linen, reflecting the clothing of the High Priest as described in Exodus and Leviticus. Usually, the garments include an under-tunic, an over-tunic, a head covering, and pants with no opening for the feet, indicating this person will not be walking anywhere.
The garments are white, a symbol of purity, and have no pockets, symbolizing that no material possessions can be taken into the afterlife, reaffirming “you can’t take it with you.” As the deceased is buried only in these garments, there’s no need to worry about selecting clothing or shoes.
This is the reading recited before and while the dressing takes place:
And he (the angel of God) raised his voice and spoke to those who were standing before him saying, “Remove the soiled garments from him (the High Priest),” and he said to him, “Behold, I have removed your iniquity from you and I will clothe you in fine garments.
I greatly delight in God; my soul rejoices in my Source. For God has clothed me in garments of deliverance, and God has wrapped me in a coat of justice. And with the linen headdress shall he be attired. And the linen breeches shall be over his flesh. He shall put on the holy linen tunic. And he shall gird himself with a linen Avnet. And God Almighty give you mercy.
The pants and tunics have drawstrings. When tying the drawstrings, the tradition is to make a slip knot wrapped seven times, the number of completion. The loop is then pointed toward the heart.
The practice of burying all Jews in the same type of simple garments was instituted eighteen hundred years ago when Rabbi Gamaliel instructed that rich and poor are equal before God. We all have the same parent; we all come to the same end – dust to dust.
Now comes the time to move the body into a plain wooden coffin with no metal parts. The first woman was very large, and we needed to use a hydraulic lift to raise her off of the preparation table and over to the casket. The second woman was very small and light, and we were able to lift and carry her on a sheet by holding the edges firmly.
The coffin can be of any kind of wood, but inexpensive soft woods such as pine are preferred over hardwoods such as oak, because they decompose more rapidly. Holes drilled in the bottom of the casket help facilitate the process. The body, the linen garments, and the wood all deteriorate at about the same rate.
Finally, potsherds, fragments of pottery, are placed over the eyes and mouth, as a sign that these eyes no longer see and the mouth no longer speaks. Earth from Israel is sprinkled over the body.
There is a belief held by Orthodox Jews that when the Messiah appears there will be a resurrection of the dead and those who lived a pious life will roll underground to the Holy Land to be resurrected. The earth from Israel placed in the coffin prepares them for the trip. This ritual is often done even if the deceased was not Orthodox.
Then we all take turns speaking to the deceased, offering our prayers and apologies for any awkwardness during the tahara. Then we set in place the lid of the casket and the memorial candle on top.
We finish with the Priestly Blessing and another prayer, which actually names angels. Many may not realize there are angels in the Jewish tradition.
May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God’s face be lifted up to you and give you peace.
For the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.
In the name of the God of Israel:
At my right hand, Michael,
At my left hand, Gabriel,
Before me, Uriel,
Behind me, Raphael,
And above my head, God’s sheltering Presence;
Above my head, Shechina.
O house of Israel, come let us walk in God’s light. The Rock of Israel has spoken and called the world into being, from the east where the sun rises, to the place where it sets. Peace shall come and each of us shall rest in our appointed place. For dust we are, and unto dust we return.
God has given, and God has taken away. Blessed is God’s name.
Each Chevra Kadisha has their own variations on the tahara ceremony. May the women in today’s taharot rest in peace.
Samuel “Sam” Houston Baxter was honored at a hot air balloon mini-fiesta. On a perfect morning for ballooning, several hundred people gathered at Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta Park for a warm and colorful sendoff for a warm and colorful man.
His sister Marj wrote the obituary for Samuel Houston Baxter that drew me to this event:
A native of New Mexico, took his final skyward journey on October 12, 2011. Sam was a veteran balloon pilot, instructor, mentor, and the founder of “The Adams Family” balloonists. Sam was a man of vision, deep and thoughtful, giving and absolutely passionate about all that he loved!
His work at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta as Field Manager spanned 14 years. Balloon Fiesta was a passion that he shared with his field crew, the volunteers and the AIBF employees who create this spectacular event each year. He was the recipient of the AAAA Sid Cutter Award and was inducted into the AIBF Hall of Fame.
He was truly the epitome of a “life well lived” and was known as “quite the Guy”! He knew no bounds and the legacy he leaves is strong and inclusively magnanimous. Please join us at sunrise for Flying and a Celebration of Sam’s life on Saturday, October 22, 2011 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Field with a tailgate afterwards and “circle the wagons” as we say goodbye and Godspeed to “Papa Adams”.
Sam brought the first Adams hot air balloon to New Mexico in 1988. Adams balloons were designed and built in Georgia, where the abundance of trees required the ability to land quickly to avoid getting dragged into obstacles. The Adams’ unique design enabled the pilot to “pop the top” of the envelope to facilitate a speedy descent and deflation in seven seconds.
His first and second Adams balloons were set up first and stayed tethered for the event. The red and white Angel Wings and the multicolored Jaded Angel both featured triangular pennants attached to the envelope. Attendees wore jackets and T-shirts with the names of other Adams balloons, all with “angel” in the name: Midnight Angel, Angel in Disguise, Angel Danzer, Painted Angel, and so on. A golden angel pin is given to those who ride in these balloons.
Longtime friend Ken Paulk said, “Sam had a dream that the angel would protect us while we’re flying. That’s why they all had ‘angel’ in their names.” There were about 18 Adams balloons at the height of the collection in New Mexico.
Attendees were given multicolored helium filled balloons as they gathered in the predawn light. Before the hot air balloons took flight, everyone let their helium balloons fly at one time.
As the hot air balloons inflated across the field, Sam’s wife Shannon was busy greeting the many people who had come from all over the state for this event. People came from Raton up north, Las Cruces down south, and Gallup to the west. “Sam was a character to say the least,” she said. “He’d say, ‘And your point is? Is this going to be a long story?’ Once you got past his gruff exterior, he was such a gem.”
At least two dozen hot air balloons took flight in Sam’s honor. One person commented, “Sam gave us steerage this morning.” He was referring to the “Albuquerque Box” phenomenon, where a balloonist can change direction by changing altitude.
About 9:00 a.m., the balloons came down and the tailgate party was set up. People “circled the wagons” and all sorts of wonderful food was set out for all to share. Laurel Hull explained the tailgate is a traditional part of the ballooning experience. “It’s a thank you to the crew for all the work that they do, and it’s a chance to count noses to see if everyone’s accounted for and made it safely back,” she said.
In his role as the Field Manager for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF), Sam was in charge of everything that had to do with the grounds and physical plant at the park. Everything from electrical and plumbing to flags and walkways was under his direction.
The president of the AIBF board, John Sena, said when he started the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally in 1982, Sam was the first balloonist to register. Sam participated every year until he couldn’t attend any more. He said they’ll probably do a special salute to his memory at the event in Taos, held two weeks after the Albuquerque Fiesta.
“The man had a soul that was twice as big as a person,” he said. “It’s kind of hard not to hear his laughter and seeing him walking around, can in hand. He would give you his sweater if you asked for it, and he wouldn’t ask for it back.”
Memorial photo boards were set up on the back of Sam’s truck. Attendees wrote their stories and memories in a composition notebook on the tailgate.
Sam loved to fly in the Gallup Balloon Rally that takes place the first weekend in December. His birthday was December 7, so it was an annual birthday treat for him. Sam’s cremated remains will be scattered over the red rocks there during the upcoming rally.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the New Mexico Cancer Center (NMCC) Foundation, 4901 Lang Ave NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, in Sam’s name. May he fly with the angels for eternity. Godspeed, Sam Baxter.
About a week after this great event, The Albuquerque Journal did a news obituary about Sam that ran on October 28, 2011. Some highlights:
Baxter got his start in ballooning in the late 1970s when he worked as a crew member for a balloonist at the fiesta. He quickly bought his own balloon and began learning how to fly.
“In his younger years we called him ‘Captain Cactus’ because when he was practicing his landings he would come in and take off the tops of the cactuses,” said his younger sister, Marj Baxter.
Baxter’s first balloon was called Angel Wings, which was made by Adams Balloons. He eventually got together a group of about 15 balloonists who all had balloons made by Adams and christened the group The Adams Family. They were a Balloon Fiesta mainstay for years.
“Ballooning was his passion,” said Baxter’s wife, Shannon Baxter.
Sam Baxter was awarded the Sid Cutter Award by the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association in 1995, and this year he was inducted into the Balloon Fiesta Hall of Fame.
“He was great. He was a man of vision. He visualized a lot for this field that got accomplished,” said his assistant field manager Janie Jordan.
Shannon Baxter said her husband helped plan and install the flag poles that surround the field as well as the tall benches people can lean or eat on, among other improvement projects at the field.
“He was in construction his whole life. He married his two loves of construction and ballooning,” she said.
Baxter enjoyed the outdoors and was an enthusiastic camper and boater. He also enjoyed NASCAR racing and gardening.
“He was a larger-than-life kind of guy. He drew people to him with his personality. He was not afraid to speak his mind but, for the most part, he was pretty quiet,” Shannon Baxter said.
Marj Baxter said her brother was good at getting people to volunteer to help out and inspired loyalty in the crews he worked with during Balloon Fiesta.
“If you were liked by Sam then that meant something,” Shannon Baxter said.
Marj Baxter said he was not a particularly religious man, but he was a very spiritual.
“He always told me that when he was up flying, that was his kind of church. What he got from flying was that he felt like he was just right there and close and in the middle of everything that made a difference,” she said.
Ballooning was a perfect outlet for his adventurous nature, she said.
“Sam always would watch which way the winds were blowing and he would take pride in trying to find the winds that would take him the other direction, so as crew, we knew we were going to be picking him up from the opposite direction of the most of the rest of the pilots were flying in,” she said.
“He lived life to the fullest. He may have been cut short in the years, but not necessarily in the mileage,” she said.
At St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church, the memorial service for Geraldine “Gerri” Stivers provided a lovely remembrance and celebration of her life.
The pastor, Dr. Russell Lee, offered a cordial welcome to everyone attending and thanked them for their presence and prayers. He also thanked the people providing the music, singing, and audiovisual assistance, and invited everyone to stay and visit at the reception in the social hall after the service.
After an opening prayer, he shared two Bible passages – Psalm 103, a psalm of thanksgiving, and John 14.
The passages from Psalm 103:
Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
And the John 14 passages:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The song “Amazing Grace” was played on piano and sung by a lovely woman singer. Gerri’s daughter Cheryl provided a tribute letter for the pastor to read. It was titled “My Best Friend.”
Gerri was born in Rehoboth, New Mexico, near Gallup, one of six children. Her mother passed on at 104 years. She left the Navajo reservation to join the Navy after high school. She got married and had a baby. After the Navy, she started a career with the Federal government that spanned almost 40 years in New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma. She submitted her retirement papers when she found out she was going to be a grandmother.
She had a great love for her granddaughter Sarah, whose 6th birthday was this day of the memorial service. She also got the “traveling bug” in 2006, when she visited Australia and New Zealand. From sea to shining sea – the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge to Plymouth Rock – and beyond U.S. shores, she traveled mostly solo and made friends everywhere she went. Even though she was terrified of water and heights, she still tried parasailing and snorkeling.
The photo montage tribute, set to “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole, documented the many places she visited. Sites included U.S. national parks, Machu Picchu, the Amazon, Tanzania, Mt. Kilamanjaro, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Egypt and the pyramids, and Paris. She took a train across Europe and cruises to Mexico, Alaska, and the Greek islands. As she said to her daughter at one point, she came a long way for a Navajo girl from New Mexico.
Dr. Lee spoke about Psalm 23 and he said it was Gerri’s favorite prayer. “It’s amazing that something written so long ago still resonates throughout the world and the ages,” he said. “It’s popular with both Christians and Jews.”
“Psalm 23 reminds us of the goodness and brightness of life. Gerri appreciated, loved and enjoyed life. What an adventuresome person she was. She loved and appreciated so much – reading, gardening, a runner who liked being physically fit, camping with her husband and playing with her granddaughter. And her faith in the Lord was important. We can learn from Gerri.”
“The psalm also reminds us that there’s a dark side to life – struggles, hurts, pains, disappointment, loss and suffering. When losses come to us, we need to seek and find restoration. We can do this by praying, talking, crying, reading, and writing.”
After his talk, a closing prayer was followed by Navy military honors. A folded U.S. flag had stood on display during the service. The honor guard of three, wearing dress blue suits and white gloves, came to the front of the church. With military precision, two unfolded the flag, and held it open over their heads. The third played “Taps” on a bugle. Then the flag was folded back up and presented to daughter Cheryl, with the thanks of a grateful nation. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church.
Inside the memorial program was this poem by Colleen Corah Hitchcock:
And if I go,
while you’re still here…
Know that I live on,
- behind a thin veil
you cannot see through.
You will not see me,
So you must have faith.
I wait for the time
when we can be together again.
Until then, live your life to its fullest.
And when you need me,
Just whisper my name in your heart,
… I will be there.