Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, funerals, memorial services
I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and I have feared no evil. After attending and writing about 30 funerals and memorial services in 30 days, I have made it through to the other side. It has been a journey of tears and laughter, of rituals and symbols, of love and loss.
This was the third year doing my 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge. As in years past, my goals were 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.
There were so many creative, personalized ways people celebrated the lives of those they love. Some of this year’s services that were especially memorable include:
- The motorcycle funeral for Freddie Drake
- The Albuquerque Art Museum memorial service for Ernest Garcia
- The home funeral and burial for Kent Gormley
- The memorial service for Charles and Claire Fenolio, who died within 20 hours of each other
- The webcast of the funeral of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, seen in Unification Churches around the world
One of the memorial services focused on the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. September 9 was National Pet Memorial Day, when I wrote about pet funerals in honor of my cat Caesar who disappeared on September 7. Outside of those two non-specific memorial events, here are the statistics:
- The services honored 20 men and 10 women
- There were 11 funerals with the body present and 22 services with cremated remains
- One funeral was followed by cremation and a rental casket was used
- One funeral took place in Mexico and the service in Albuquerque was a memorial service
- One funeral was webcast around the world from Korea
- Religions for the services included Catholic, Anglican, Latter Day Saints (Mormon), Unitarian Universalist, Seventh Day Adventist, Jewish, Evangelical Christian, Church of Christ, Buddhist and Unification Church
- The youngest was 15, Connor Porter who died in an airplane crash, the oldest was 92, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, from pneumonia complications
- Causes of death: cancer (8), age-related illnesses (8), organ failure (4), accidents (3), Alzheimers (3), heart attack (2), and suicide (2)
- Out of the 30 events covered, only about six people had planned their funerals in advance – four were women
A few other things I observed:
- As technology becomes more integrated into services with music and video tributes, funeral homes and their clients need to coordinate on AV formatting. At several services there were glitches due to incompatible media.
- QR codes on prayer cards and memorial folders offer an innovative way for family and friends to access tribute videos outside the memorial service through smart phone technology and YouTube.
- Memorial services are taking place in settings other than funeral homes, cemeteries and houses of worship: assisted living facilities, nursing homes and at private homes – wherever the deceased or their close family members live(d).
- In some cases, obituaries in the newspaper are as short as possible, directing readers to the funeral home’s website for service information and more about the person. This is utilized to save money on the per-line fees the newspaper charges.
- Some obituaries indicate there will be no service, or the service is listed as a private event. Perhaps that’s to keep folks like me from crashing the party.
It has been an awesome trip. My thanks to the families who allowed me to cover the services for their loved ones. I hope these stories will help them remember and continue to celebrate the lives they lived.
If you missed last week’s story about the 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge in the Albuquerque Journal, you can read Leslie Linthicum’s column online. Many thanks to Leslie for her great story.
I will be glad to reclaim the three to four hours a day it took to attend and write about all of these stories. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you challenge yourself and put yourself to the test.
The three and a half hour funeral for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon was the longest of my 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge. Actually, it’s the longest funeral I’ve ever experienced. The Universal Seonghwa or Farewell Ascension Ceremony that took place in South Korea was most impressive.
After Leslie Linthicum’s column about me and the 30 Day Challenge appeared in last Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal, Joy Garratt with the local Albuquerque Family Church invited me to witness the live funeral webcast. Not only were thousands of people attending the service in Korea, the event was broadcast live on the internet. Thousands more viewed the proceedings live at Unification churches in 194 countries around the world.
About 35 people had gathered here at 4:30 p.m. local time, starting with a buffet dinner. In the church’s tradition, women wore white or light-colored clothing and men wore white ties and shirts. The service started in Korea at 9:00 a.m. Seoul time on September 15. After people here in Albuquerque had a chance to eat, we watched a video of Reverend Moon’s Last Prayer, spoken just before he took his last breath. You can see his prayer and an overview of his life with English voice-over in this 12-minute YouTube video:
Up to 35,000 people gathered in Cheongpyeong, South Korea for the funeral of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church who died on September 3 at the age of 92. He was hospitalized with pneumonia and was in intensive care since mid-August.
Rev. Moon, a high-profile international evangelist for decades, said that Jesus Christ came to him at the age of 16 and told him to finish Jesus’ mission. The Unification Church believes that Jesus was divine but that he is not God, a stance that puts it outside the bounds of traditional Christianity. Followers regard Rev. Moon as the messiah.
His church officially started in the 1950s, with missionaries being dispatched around the world by the end of that decade. His was one of several religious movements that emerged after World War II and the Korean War in South Korea and Japan. Rev. Moon was imprisoned in North Korea during the Korean War before being freed by the allies, an experience that turned him virulently anti-communist. He became active in conservative politics in the U.S. and other countries.
Globally, the church’s reach may have peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, as hundreds of thousands joined the religious movement. In his role as church leader, Rev. Moon became famous for conducting mass weddings, including one in 1982 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and one in 1995 in South Korea uniting 360,000 couples. I met one couple at this Albuquerque funeral who were in the New York mass wedding, still happily married.
He also gained influence in other ways as well — growing a massive, diverse business empire that included holdings in industries such as resorts, chemicals, arms manufacturing, mining and pharmaceuticals. Moon helped create news publications, universities, religious institutions and other groups. Some such organizations that Moon founded stress interfaith dialogue and peace, like the Universal Peace Federation, which advocates “building a world of peace in which everyone can live in freedom, harmony, cooperation and prosperity.”
Sun Myung Moon was referred to as The True Parent of Heaven, Earth and Humankind. He, also called The True Father, and his wife, called The True Mother, had 14 children. Four of their children had predeceased him.
The internet webcast began with a 30-minute procession to take the body from the Cheon Jeong Gung Museum to the Cheongshim Peace World Center, where 21,000 people waited inside the building and 14,000 would watch on video screens outside the building. Cameras followed the procession, led by a son carrying his father’s picture and accompanied by a young grandson. The True Mother followed the casket, escorted by other women. Everyone wore white robes.
Once the procession reached the doors of the museum, the casket was loaded onto a white and gold flower-bedecked vehicle for the short drive to the Center. A sedan with a large picture of Rev. Moon preceded his body as they drove down the road. Once the cortege reached the Center, the processional continued as in the museum. During the drive, a voice over of the MC in the Center extolled Rev. Moon’s many accomplishments in so many arenas.
Everyone in the arena and the church stood as the procession entered the arena. Attending couples, wearing white clothing and gold jackets, lined the aisle up the middle of the huge Center. The dais featured a huge floral display with an oversize portrait of Rev. Moon. White and gold uniformed pallbearers ceremoniously set the casket in front of this portrait. The True Mother took a seat on an elaborate white throne, one of two that the couple sat upon while presiding over church events.
A set of seven candles were lit by the international president of the church and his wife, the spiritual heirs to Rev. Moon. They lit in a back and forth pattern, representing three for heaven and four for earth and universal give and take.
Dr. Joon-Ho Seuk, executive director, said, “Today is a very significant moment that will never be repeated again. He has completed and perfected his mission on earth… As he enters heaven in this solemn ceremony, mankind and billions of spirits are participating.”
Everyone then sang the Cheon Il Guk anthem, called Blessings of Glory in English. Rev. Moon wrote the song.
Dr. Bo Hi Pak with the Korea Culture Foundation, said, “Heavenly Father, tightly embrace your son… What about us? Your poor children still need him. It feels like the sky has fallen, the sun has lost its light… Now that he’s gone, the sadness overflows from our hearts… We wish we could hear your voice one more time.”
Next, a floral tribute took place, the offering of flowers on a long, white-draped table. Red roses and white lily were the single stems placed upon the table. The floral offering was followed by a video of that chronicled Moon’s life and accomplishments.
The Seonghwa Address was given by Rev. Hyung-Jin Moon, international president and one of Rev. Moon’s sons. “God sent our True Father in order to bring salvation to fallen humankind,” he said. Take to heart his teachings, the path to the ideal world.” He identified January 13, 2013 as the start of cosmic unity, the establishment of freedom, truth, peace and happiness in a new era on earth and in heaven. At the end of his speech, everyone shouted “We love you” three times in Rev. Moon’s honor.
Three eulogies followed by Dong-Suk Kang, chair of the Oceanic Expo, Lord Tarsem King from the House of Lords in Great Britain, and Alfred Moisiu, fourth President of the Republic of Albania from 2002 to 2007. Each spoke of Moon’s contributions to humanity, culture, family, world peace, and democracy.
By 11:45 a.m. Seoul time, the audience on the screen was starting to look a little antsy. A hymn of praise sung by 340 singers from Korea and Japan and an orchestra with 40 musicians played two songs that rang the rafters of the large arena.
Another flower offering followed, first by The True Mother and The True Family, then by dignitaries and other special guests. Family members bowed twice, first bending from the waist, then kneeling down and making a full bow on the floor. There were flower offerings from representatives of Korea, Japan and America; from the six continents, from the main religions, from democracies around the world, and many other groups.
At the end, all stood, both in Korea and in the local church, for the Three Cheers of Eog Mansei. It was described to me as a Korean “Hip-hip-hooray!” Everyone threw their hands in the air in unison. Then, “For the endless effort on behalf of mankind,” everyone said “thank you” in Korean, repeated several times.
The recession out was as grand as the procession in, and took almost as long. By the time Rev. Moon’s elaborate inlaid casket left the building, it was 9:40 p.m. Mountain Time on September 14, 12:40 p.m. Seoul Time on September 15.
Kasia Stevens, who has known Rev. Moon for 40 years, attended the service in person in Korea. She invited me to attend the funeral at the Albuquerque Church. After the funeral, she shared the following impressions of the service.
“I wanted to share a couple of points that may not have come through the broadcast. Unexpectedly, the feeling was so powerful and tangible as I entered the stadium in Korea. It took my breath away. For us, it was a gathering of faithful brothers and sisters who came to show their love for their friend, spiritual father and leader. All of us have sacrificed something to be in this movement and there was a lot of mutual respect in the stadium. Rev. Moon touched my heart in a very personal way and it was a tremendous experience to be there with our church family in sharing that love and connection. I am still in awe about how one man could have touched so many from so many different countries,” she wrote.
“Another part of the service that perhaps was not captured on the video was the wave of tears that passed through the stadium sometime around Col. Park’s speech. I have experienced “the wave”, but never a wave of tears,” she wrote. “Rev. Moon’s Seunghwa ceremony was quite different from other ceremonies in our movement. Most of them are more joyful.”
In the Albuquerque Family Church, we closed with a prayer: “We are here to thank you for his life… Be with the family and Mother Moon. Thank you for blessing us and continue the legacy of Father Moon. Spread showers of peace through out the world… showers of praise in your son Jesus’ name. Amen.” The local reverend Rick Schnorr added, “We’ll keep him in our hearts every day… Give a little more, just as he did.”
My thanks to the Albuquerque Family Church for inviting me to witness this celebration of Rev. Moon’s transition to the next reality. It was a truly unique event. If you’d like to add a memory or story, please use the comment box below.
Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, memorial services
Doug died on May 2, 2010 and a memorial service was held on May 23rd in Los Alamos, NM, where the family lived and Doug retired from the lab there. Another memorial service was held in August of 2011 at a family cabin in Maine. That’s when the majority of his cremated remains were buried next to those of his brother Chuck.
A third celebration, The Douglas O. ReVelle Memorial Balloon Launch, took place on August 15, 2012 at the Russell Woods Forest Preserve in Genoa, IL. A small portion of his cremated remains were sent aloft in a weather balloon. This salute to Doug as a professor gave his students the opportunity to honor his life and work. It was also the fulfillment of his last wish.
Doug was my mother’s cousin. His mother and my grandfather were siblings. Doug and his family lived a two and a half hour drive away from me. Over the past 18 years, Doug and his wife Ann and their two sons David and Peter came to my house in Albuquerque for holiday celebrations and my husband and I went to Los Alamos for milestone events. During the disastrous Cerro Grande Fire in May 2000, when Los Alamos was evacuated, they stayed in my home while I was on a long trip back East.
Doug had battled lymphoma and seemed to have beaten it with chemotherapy. However, the treatment activated a latent hepatitis B infection, which eventually led to his death. Doug was in an Albuquerque hospital during his last two weeks. Ann, David and Peter came to stay at my house during that trying time.
Doug’s last wish, expressed to Ann before he slipped into a coma, was to have his ashes scattered in the upper atmosphere. “Don’t forget me,” was the last thing he said to her. He was an aeronomer, someone who studies the upper atmospheric regions of the Earth.
Aeronomy is also concerned with the atmospheres around meteors, comets and satellites, or any other atmosphere where ionization, particularly of oxygen, takes place. Doug taught dynamic meteorology, atmospheric sciences and climate dynamics at Northern Illinois University from 1984 to 1993.
He studied in pioneering theoretical work the interaction of meteors and planetary atmospheres. He addressed, in particular, aerodynamics, ablation, meteor acoustics and infrasonic meteor observations. An asteroid was named in his honor, 13358 Revelle, with the dedication “Douglas O. ReVelle, for his pioneering work in meteor physics and astronomy based on theoretical aerodynamics, in meteor acoustics and in the interpretation of infrasonic meteor observations.”
Doug’s past students worked together with Ann to create this memorial event on August 15, 2012. They found an appropriate weather balloon, poured his ashes into the balloon, then filled it with helium. The cremated remains of two of his beloved dogs, Sparky and Shadow, were also mixed in so he’d have company on his trip. Ann obtained permission to do the balloon launch from Russell Woods Forest Preserve management. The sledding hill location of the event was significant. It’s where Doug and Ann took the kids for winter fun when they lived there. Here’s the video of the launch.
Doug’s favorite quote was from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” A payload card attached to the balloon with his photo read:
Douglas O. ReVelle
Memorial Balloon Launch
August 15, 2012
Husband and Father
Our Relative, Our Friend, Our Mentor, Our Colleague
We send you off to the skies
where you will never be forgotten
If you find this card, please contact us on facebook
After the launch, there was a gathering at a picnic shelter for food and sharing of stories and good memories about Doug. It was a catered sack lunch affair where everyone ordered off a menu: no platters to worry about and easy to clean up. One former student brought a cooler of drinks as their contribution. This was followed by a tour of the Geography Department at Northern Illinois University by the woman who took over after Doug went on to other positions. Ann also got together with his former students the next night at a restaurant to talk about memories and stories of Doug.
Doug’s first memorial service was held three weeks after his death. Family, friends and neighbors gathered at a community center in Los Alamos. The Los Alamos Jewish Community’s Rabbi Jack Shlachter facilitated the service, which included readings by family members and remembrances from friends. Readings included passages from the Bible, poetry, prayers, and Psalms 23 and 121: A Song of Ascent (especially appropriate here in the Rocky Mountains):
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Here’s the Hebrew version, Asa Eni, that Rabbi Jack sang:
Ann’s friends put together a lovely reception at the community center. The family later went to Rancho de Chimayo Restaurante, a place where other family milestones were celebrated.
Doug did not want his remains buried in Los Alamos. His parents were buried in a Conservative Jewish cemetery in Tucson, and he was more Reform, so that didn’t seem like the right place for him. His brother Chuck had died a few years earlier, and his cremated remains were buried in an apple orchard at the family’s cabin in Maine.
So in August 2011, the family held a small interment ceremony there, planting an apricot tree over his remains. Apricots were special to Doug and a favorite fruit.
Ann’s brother Tom, a talented woodworker, made the box for the cremains with wooden pegs – no metal parts as Jewish caskets are traditionally made. Pink granite from Vermont with bronze plates were placed as markers.
Ann said she had gone to a bereavement group and learned that it is helpful to do conscious activities, to plan and to do, to help process the grief of loss. “Each event fulfilled a different need to honor his memory in a lasting way,” she explained.
And the events will continue. Ann will celebrate her 65th birthday on October 4 with a large Oktoberfest kegger party. Doug only made it to his 64th birthday. The party will recognize that life goes on and give a big thank-you to everyone in Los Alamos who supported her through the loss. She has lived in Los Alamos for 18 years, the longest she’s ever lived anywhere in her life. Ann will retire on November 1 and will sell the family home to downsize into a smaller house in Los Alamos.
Change is constant. Death happens. Life goes on. Treasure every day. Celebrate often.
Douglas Orson ReVelle, we will always remember you.
Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, celebration of life
An impressive eight-page program was handed to all of the attendees as they entered the celebration of life for Debi Lester. As the Parish Administrator for Christ the King Anglican Church of Albuquerque, Debi had created many programs like this for families who had held funerals there.
Today, church members returned the favor with a beautiful document that laid out all the elements of The Burial of the Dead: Rite Two. Each section featured an illuminated capital letter: The Collect; Opening Hymn “I Will Sing of My Redeemer”; From the Old Testament; Psalm 23; From the New Testament; The Gospel Hymn “The Good Shepherd”; The Gospel; Reflections from the Family; Homily: The Very Rev. Pete Falk; Apostles’ Creed; Prayers of the People; The Peace; Offertory “Take Heart My Friend”; The Great Thanksgiving; Communion Music; Post Communion Prayer; Commendation; The Blessing; Closing Hymn “For All The Saints”; and Dismissal.
A number of clergy from Anglican churches in New Mexico came to the celebration of her life. The Very Rev. Pete Falk, now at Wellsprings, an Anglican Church, used to work with Debi at Christ the King Church, and she facilitated his family’s move from Canada to Albuquerque. The Rev. Canon Dan Klooster, interim rector at Christ the King, The Rev. Deacon Bill Lock and well-known Christian musician Fernando Ortega also played roles in the service.
The Rev. Canon Dan Klooster recited the Collect, an opening prayer: “O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our sister Debi. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The readings from the Old Testament were Job 19:21-27a and Isaiah 61:1-3:
Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me,
never satisfied with my flesh?
“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion–
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
Everyone recited together the Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.), followed by readings from 1 Corinthians:
In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
The Gospel reading came from John 10:11-16 and John 14:1-6:
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away– and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
During Reflections from the Family, Debi’s brother Paul spoke about her. “Debi did things really well, not haphazardly,” he said. “When God put her in the administrative position in the church, that’s where God meant her to be.” Not only did Debi work at Christ the King Anglican Church, she also held similar positions at St. Mrks on the Mesa Episcopal Church in Albuquerque and Christ the King Episcopal Church in Lakeland, Florida.
Paul described her as a great sister, a role model, a friend, and a Type A personality, which drew knowing chuckles from the audience. He said she was in charge growing up. “Ask her, she’d tell you,” he said. “Debi would brighten your day.”
The obituary described her as a woman of strong faith, fun loving, adventurous, charming and comforting to all who knew her. She enjoyed traveling and the adventures she would find along the way. She loved New Mexico, having moved here with her husband Art in 1991. They were married for 26 years. She enjoyed sunrises, sunsets, moons and star-filled nights.
Paul shared a poem, actually the lyrics to a song, “Beyond the Sunset” by Hank Williams:
Should you go first and I remain, to walk the road alone
I’ll live in memory’s garden dear, with happy days we’ve known
In spring I’ll wait for roses red, when faith the lilacs bloom
And in early fall when brown leaves fall,
I’ll catch a glimpse of you
Should you go first and I remain, for battles to be fought
Each thing you’ve touched along the way, will be a hallowed spot
I’ll hear your voice I’ll see your smile
Though blindly I may grope
The memory of your helping hand, will buoy me on with hope
Beyond the sunset oh blissful morning
When with our Savior, heaven is begun
Earth’s toiling ended, oh glorious dawning
Beyond the sunset when day is done
Should you go first and I remain, to finish with the scroll
No lessening shadows shall ever creep in
To make this life seem droll
We’ve known so much of happiness, we’ve had our cup of joy
And memory is one gift of God, that death cannot destroy
I want to know each step you take, that I may walk the same
For someday down that lonely road, you’ll hear me call your name
Should you go first and I remain, one thing I’ll have you do
Walk slowly down that long long path, for soon I’ll follow you
Debi’s death at 56 followed a brief battle with lung cancer caused by exposure to second-hand smoke throughout her life. She hadn’t been feeling well most of the year, and by the time the cancer was diagnosed in late May, it was already stage four. Many were stunned by the quickness of her health’s decline.
In the Homily presented by the Very Rev. Pete Falk, he spoke about memories of Debi as a colleague and what the Scriptures had to say about what everyone was going through with her loss. He first met her in 2003 when she handled all the details of a complicated move for he and his family to come to Albuquerque from a small town in Canada. “She was a wonderful manager, an organized person, and fun to be around,” he said.
She started the delightful traditions of “Elevensies,” an 11:00 a.m. tea time with coffee, tea and cakes. You could hear her great laugh all the way down the hall. She was also a great encourager who loved life. She helped all the church’s families put together funerals, many of them unexpected. “She had a tender heart for her ministry, being there for people in need,” he said. “Debi liked to say ‘What comes up, comes out.’ It’s weird that she’s not here. She was the one who put together these services. I think she’d be proud.”
“Debi knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ was her Lord and Savior and her purpose in life,” he said. He turned to the Scriptures, noting Job and his suffering while still proclaiming I know my Redeemer lives and will see God face to face. Isaiah’s passage promises no more mourning and that a new order has come.
He talked about the shepherd passages from John and the 23rd Psalm. “We’re in the valley of the shadow of death all the time. We never know when death will strike,” he said. “Yet we fear no evil, for thou art with me. With death nearby, God is still with us… We get through the valley of the shadow of death as a family and a church community. Everyone suffers and we offer each other a level of comfort and care.”
“The Christian hope is death isn’t the end of the story. Life continues beyond the grave. We’ll receive a new body and the dead shall be raised imperishable. We shall be changed and achieve victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our hope is in the good shepherd who laid down his life for us, that we may have life abundantly.”
“We are here to say goodbye to Debi for a time, not for forever. She did not leave at a time of our choosing, but of God’s choosing. She’s on the next stage of the journey,” he said. As he finished the homily, he spoke to the urn holding Debi’s ashes, “Goodbye, Debi. We’ll see you again.”
The rest of the service reminded me of a Catholic Mass. The Apostles’ Creed, the Prayers of the People, the sharing of “Peace be with you” with our neighbors, and the preparation of the Eucharist and service of Communion all looked familiar from other services I’ve attended. Some took the host and sipped from the communal cup. Others, to protect compromised immune systems, dipped the host in the wine.
During Communion the song “Give Me Jesus” was performed by Fernando Ortega, a Christian musician who has won two Dove Awards. He used to work with Debi at Christ the King Anglican Church and they were friends. Here is the rendition of the song as he performed it at a memorial tribute for Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife.
During the Commendation, the Celebrant held his hand over the urn and led this prayer, where the people joined in (noted in bold type).
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant Debi with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant Debi with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Debi. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.
After the Priestly Blessing and the closing hymn, everyone was invited to a luncheon reception in the social hall, where the family greeted and received condolences from all who attended. If you have stories or memories to share about Debi, feel free to post in the comments section below.
Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, memorial services
Phillip Jordan traveled all over this country, from Maine to Alaska, Montana to New Mexico, Seattle to Long Island, and up and down the East Coast. He worked as an executive chef in Glacier National Park, on a dude ranch in Montana, and in many other resorts and restaurants. Fifteen years ago, he came to Albuquerque and never left.
He died on hospice care at the age of 71. Esophageal cancer had spread through his body. His brother Don was with him as he passed peacefully. About 30 residents of Encino Terrace gathered at the apartment building’s chapel to remember Phil in a brief, heartfelt memorial service.
Don spoke to the group, saying, “Phil traveled a lot in his life. He came here to Encino Terrace two years ago and found a home. He really thought a lot of all of you and loved you all. He really fell in love with Albuquerque.”
Phil and Don and their two sisters grew up in Bar Harbor, Maine. Don, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, said Phil introduced him to that state in 1976. Phil had cooked on oil rigs in Alaska. Don, nine years younger than Phil, got to spend some quality time with his brother before he died. “He lived an adventurous life,” said Don. “His greatest experience was when he came here. He was at peace and he made a lot of friendships.”
The residents were invited to share their memories of Phil. He was described as a gentle, kindly man with a golden heart. He was also an artist as well as an excellent chef. Phil started the Sunday afternoon ice cream socials at Encino Terrace. One woman brought a butterfly painting Phil had done for her to display at the memorial service. He was also known for being an excellent Santa Claus at the annual Christmas party. Don found the Santa suit in Phil’s closet.
Phil loved his cat, named Molina. He’d put the cat on a leash and walk it around. A couple who live in the building took Molina and gave that sweet kitty a good home. Phil had two sons, and one son and daughter-in-law had visited him just a few weeks before he died.
“It was so quick and peaceful,” Don said. “He was ready. He’s in a better place.” One of the residents said, “Thank you for being such a loving brother.”
Knowing that he had cancer, Phil had planned ahead for his final arrangements. His body was cremated and will be interred in the cremation garden at Sunset Memorial Park. The epitaph on his marker will read, “I did it my way.”
Ordinarily, I keep a low profile at memorial services. At this one, I was asked to speak, because the Albuquerque Journal had just run a story about me and my 30 Funerals in 30 Days project. After witnessing so many events over the past three and a half weeks, here’s my take:
We gather to remember people who make an impression upon our hearts. There are many different ways to celebrate a life. It’s important for community to come together with those closest to the person who died and take the time to recognize a loss. As long as we remember those we know and love, they never truly die.
Like the butterfly, our spirits evolve from caterpillar, to cocoon, to a winged thing of beauty.
Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, memorial services
Today is the day Americans pause and remember the losses, the pain, the chaos of September 11, 2001. Memorial services are taking place all over the country, not just in the places where the jets hijacked by terrorists went down.
Here in Albuquerque, the 11th anniversary of this solemn day was marked with a gathering featuring the governor and mayor at a new fire station still under construction. Fire Station 2 is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives on September 11. The theme for the ceremony was Rebuilding For The Future And Honoring Our Fallen Heroes. The start time of 8:46 a.m. (local time) was the moment the first airplane hit the North Tower.
The event, which you can view on the YouTube video associated with this blog post, started with the presentation of the colors, the singing of the national anthem, and the pledge of allegiance. Every speaker offered thanks to those who came together to remember and salute those who died, those who serve in the fire and police departments and the military, and for the rebuilding of the United States.
In the invocation offered by Albuquerque Fire Department Senior Chaplain Lt. Jerome Rael, he said, “Greater love has no one than this than has laid down his life for his friends… Almighty God, in ancient days, you are the author of life and salvation from whom every good gift and blessings come. We acknowledge your presence today as we commemorate and honor the memory of the fallen. We also remember the victims and their families. Today may we put into action our faith, works and love in memory of the fallen and honor the military who continue to fight and protect our freedoms at home and abroad… We thank you that good will always overcome evil… Grant us the wisdom and courage to look forward with hope and purpose and unswerving resolve in building toward the future by learning from the past and living in the application and light of your wisdom in the present. Amen”
Governor Susana Martinez spoke first. “It is hard to believe that today marks the 11th anniversary of the tragedy that came to be known as 9-11… We also pause to remember the brave men and women who courageously put their lives at risk in order to protect our nation from future threats. Eleven years ago, not only did our fellow citizens come under attack, so did our way of life as we knew it, and our freedom.”
“These acts of terror were intended to frighten us, to divide us, to drive us into retreat. But the United States of America is far too resilient to let this attack bully us into submission. Our nation and our people have met terror with valor, threats with resolve, and we’ve confronted tyranny with liberty… God bless those men and women in uniform that protect us and live among us every day. Thank you for all that you do. God bless America. “
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry spoke next. He revealed that he has a flag with the names of all who died on September 11, 2001 in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. “I have it in my workshop because that’s where I go to be by myself, to reflect, to have a little quiet time, to build stuff… We are a nation of builders: buildings, democracies, trust, dreams, and builders of the future. One World Trade Center is a perfect example and metaphor for this great nation’s ability to overcome challenges and enemies regardless of the initial attacks.”
The 104-story new building will stand 1776 feet tall, signifying the year of our declaration of independence. “It stands for our resilience, our resolve, our dedication, and our refusal to give in to those who want to see our way of life destroyed. We are a great nation, and we will continue to help each other heal, find courage hope and we will rebuild. Because terrorists may have gotten in a cheap shot, but the American people will not be kept down. We will never stop remembering and we will never stop rebuilding.”
City Council President Trudy Jones recalled how the nation stood still in shock when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. That autumn day is seared into our common memory. “Eleven years ago today, our world was forever changed one more time,” she said. “Each of us has our own personal memories of that horrible day. Whatever those memories, whatever those connections, 9-11 is and always will be part of who we are as individuals, as Americans, and as citizens of this world.”
Albuquerque Police Chief Raymond Schultz noted, “We may never know how many lives were saved that day, but we do know that it was firefighters and policemen who didn’t stop and ask whether or not they should go inside. They didn’t stop and say, ‘It’s not my job.’ They did as they were trained and responded as we expected them to.”
“What we saw in New York, in Washington and in Shanksville in 2001 is nothing different than we see here in Albuquerque each and every day… We don’t ask many questions, we respond, knowing we are prepared to deal with whatever we may find… We only want to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Colonel John Kubinec, 377th Air Base Wing Commander spoke on behalf of the military. “Thank you for your support of our men and women in uniform. When I think of September 11, 2011, I think of places. I think of numbers. I think of faces.”
Some of those numbers are staggering: Almost 3,000 innocent victims and heroic first responders in 2001. 4,488 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who gave their lives in Iraq. 1,987 who gave their lives in Afghanistan. More than 17,000 wounded in those two wars.
He thinks of faces and names of people and the memories of those killed in the service of our country. He recounted memories of rendering final salutes to those making their journey back to the U.S. in a flag-draped coffin. “Let us never forget those who serve today, are in harms way right now, here and abroad, and always honor them,” he said.
Fire Chief James Breen said that this fire station under construction is dedicated to the memory of all who have served and provided public safety. The construction industry was instrumental in working with first responders to rescue the living and retrieve the dead. The American flag flying over the construction site is flying there for the first time. It was raised and lowered to half staff for this one day. It will fly there again when the station opens officially later this year.
At the end of the service, Briane Dennison, APD Chaplain, offered words from Psalm 107: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. Faithful love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim that he has redeemed them from the hand of the foe… Gracious father, we do give thanks to you today, for you are a good God. And though we are here eleven years later, you were present there at Ground Zero and you are present here today… We see that freedom still reigns, that this nation still stands as a beacon of freedom… We pray for those hearts that are still sorrowful for the losses of 9-11. May we always pay tribute to those who died by living courageously, and living a life that gives honor unto you.”
After the invocation, several doves were released to mark the end of the service. This was one of the few memorial services not followed by a reception with food and drink. We will always remember this day.
Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, Buddhist memorial service
Miguel Caro was a talented performer, choreographer, dance teacher, and well-loved man known for his hugs and smiles. He toured the world performing baile folklorico, traditional Mexican folk dancing. He was introduced to Buddhism while on tour in Japan and embraced the religion. A Buddhist memorial service was held for him at the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) New Mexico Buddhist center.
As with many memorial services, there was a photo board with pictures of Miguel through the years, many showing him in colorful, elaborate costumes that he designed and his sister Beatriz made. A photo montage was projected on the screen at the front of the room, showing Miguel dancing and with family and friends, always, always smiling. Between the photos at the start and the open comments period and reception toward the end, something very different happened.
Having never experienced a Buddhist memorial service before, I am grateful to Marilyn Mendes for taking me under her wing to describe the traditions and meanings ascribed to the ceremony.
SGI members follow the teachings of Nichiren, a Buddhist monk who lived in thirteenth-century Japan. Nichiren’s teachings provide a way for anybody to readily draw out the enlightened wisdom and energy of Buddhahood from within their lives, regardless of their individual circumstances. Each person has the power to overcome all of life’s challenges, to live a life of value and become a positive influence in their community, society and the world.
The invocation (chant) of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a universal practice to enable people to manifest the Buddhahood inherent in their lives and gain the strength and wisdom to challenge and overcome any adverse circumstances. Nichiren felt that everyone can attain enlightenment and enjoy happiness while they are alive.
“Enlightenment exists within you now, with your human frailties,” Marilyn said. “The difference between the common mortal and Buddha is behavior. The struggle is to manifest enlightenment in our behavior.”
Buddhists believe the essential nature of life continues, whether manifest in this physical world or not. They believe the spirit of the deceased still exists. The person’s life is celebrated and prayers are offered for rebirth in the best possible circumstances, to be reunited with loved ones.
The screen was put away and the assembled centered themselves with prayer beads looped around their middle fingers. Some slid the beads back and forth, to make a focusing vibration in their palms. A cabinet at the front of the room was opened, revealing a mandala (an object of devotion) which was the writing Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in Japanese characters.
A man sat in front of the mandala with a large black bowl next to him. He started the chanting by striking the bowl with a large stick. The bowl rang like a gong, and everyone began the Nam-myoho-renge-kyo chant. Each person had their own booklet copy of the sutra, written in Chinese and Japanese characters with English transliteration. They intoned their prayers in unison in between the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. How can I best describe this? It felt similar to the hypnotic repetition of the Rosary in a Catholic church.
A regal picture of Miguel in Aztec costume sat on a table at the front, with two incense burners before his image. As the chanting continued, people lined up in the center aisle and came forward to take a pinch of incense and drop it into one of the burners. This ceremony allowed each individual to offer up a prayer for Miguel’s eternal life. Many carried prayer beads in their hands. They were young and old, black and white, Hispanic and Asian. Some hugged Miguel’s longtime partner Keith Langford after they offered up their incense and prayers.
After the incense offering, the booklet indicated it was time for silent personal prayers and a prayer for all the deceased. As one person said, the endless cycle of birth and death is eternal. The leader sounded the bell continuously to end the chanting portion of the service.
Keith Langford, Miguel’s partner for 26 years, got up to speak. He started with words of thanks for everyone who helped during Miguel’s long illness. In the last few years, Miguel had broken a shoulder and a toe, and he had liver cancer and coronary artery disease, which ruled out his chance for a liver transplant. But Miguel always kept up his chanting and his strong faith.
Miguel was born in the small Mexican town of Ameca in the state of Jalisco. He loved to dance as a teenager – while he didn’t understand the words, he loved the beat of American rock ‘n roll. He trained at the Institute of Fine Art in Mexico City and toured the world as a soloist with the Nacional Ballet Folklórico.
He moved to Albuquerque in 1972 and started his dance company, Miguel Caro y la Fiesta Mexicana, in 1978. He became a U.S. citizen in 1983. He taught dance at UNM for 20 years, as well as at his own private dance studio and several local high schools. In 1999 he was the recipient of the Bravo Award for Excellence in the Arts and was named Arts Educator of the Year.
He designed and made the costumes with fine attention to detail. He also got a cosmetology license and had his dancers all wear the same hair and makeup.
Miguel’s body was shipped to his native Mexico, for burial next to his mother. A mariachi band played at the graveside service.
The floor was opened for others to speak and share stories and memories. Miguel was remembered as a great, kind person who always wanted to hug you. His smile brightened the room. He was a citizen of the world who illuminated the stage with music and dance. He embodied vigor and grace, determination and connection, passion and compassion.
Al Soto, the man who led the chanting, spoke about understanding the reality of life and death. “Every day, you get up, you wake up. You’re born, grow stronger, mature, age, tire, go to sleep, die. If you understand one day, you understand the entirety of life,” he said. “Buddhism goes beyond this view. In the latent phase of death, the entity cycle remains unchanged. Life and death are one and the same.”
Marcella Sandoval, a dancer with Miguel’s company for 23 years, asked those from different spheres of his life to stand and be recognized: the SGI community, those who took dance classes from him, those who danced in his performance groups, and those who sat in the audience for his performances. “The legend does and will live on,” she said.
Paula, a student in the 1980s to 1990s, offered some “Miguelisms,” things that he would say and what he really meant. “Put all your fingers on the floor” meant put your feet flat on the floor (the word for fingers and toes was the same). “Up your face” meant hold your head high. “Change your face” meant turn your face right or left. “Up your dress” meant lift your skirts. “We are the really reallies” meant that they were the true professionals and genuine Mexican folk dancers. “Ay Labio Vary Mach” means “I love you very much,” although the word labio means lips.
Miguel got his 15 minutes of national fame doing his show-stopper dance El Tilingo Lingo on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in 2001. He kept a tray of 10 glasses of water perfectly balanced on his head while his feet tapped out a staccato rhythm. The service wound down with video footage of Miguel doing that dance in the KNME program “Colores.” Miguel’s spirited dancing and beaming smile left everyone with a sense of joy.
At the end of the service, everyone was invited to share food and stories at a reception at the center. If you have stories you’d like to share, please write in the comments box below.
Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, pet funerals, pet loss
September 9, 2012 is National Pet Memorial Day, so declared by the PLPA, the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance, a committee of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. To honor our beloved pets, today’s post, Day 24 of the 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge, is about pet funerals.
Originally, this post was going to be just about the unique people-pet cemetery Best Friends Forever here in Albuquerque. However, my charming cat Caesar went outside on Thursday night, as he usually does, and my husband Dave and I haven’t seen him since. I’m hoping Caesar is simply getting spoiled in another family’s home and not the victim of some awful fate. This turn of events made me think about advice I’ve given regarding pet funerals and the elements that make them emotionally satisfying.
They’re the same elements that make people funerals emotionally satisfying. I call them The Four Rs: Recognize the death, Remember the individual, Reaffirm your beliefs, and Release the spirit. I don’t yet want to give up hope for Caesar’s return. I’ll tackle the second R and share some stories about Caesar.
He came into our lives in 2007 when he was already six or seven years old. Our neighbors down the street had taken him into their household when their daughter moved to Spain. But they already had several dogs and cats, and Mr. Caesar was getting pushed around by the others. He’d taken to wandering the neighborhood, and once we knew his name, he came to visit us on a regular basis. The neighbors said they were looking for some nice folks to adopt him. We asked all of our cat-loving friends if they’d like to adopt this lovely cat, but they all said no.
It was summer time, and we were grilling salmon in the back yard. Caesar came around, and I gave him a little piece. From then on, it was love. I’d been allergic to cats most of my life, but thought if I washed my hands after petting him, I might be okay. We walked down to the neighbors and said we’d adopt him.
The first day after he became ours, we were sitting on the patio reading the Sunday paper and having breakfast. He walked up with two young doves in his mouth (freshly killed) and dropped them at our feet. It was like he was saying, “Here’s a present for each of you. Thank you for being my parents.”
We really didn’t like that he was such a hunter cat. Yet at the same time, he was in great shape. He would stretch out on the carpet and I swear he was two feet long! I used to teach yoga classes at home, and he would go crazy on the shoes of my brother Mitch and my friend Gary – no one else’s. He loved to jump up in my lap while I was busy at the computer, curl up and stay there. He loved to have his rump patted, often quite vigorously. And often he would curl up next to me or Dave as we went to sleep – and then wake us at 2:00 a.m. to go out. He had a great purr and he could sense a can of tuna being opened from the other side of the house.
We miss him and we’re still looking for him. Hail Caesar!
* * * * * * * * * *
I went and visited with Vaughn Hendren, general manager of Best Friends Forever, the only cemetery in the Southwest that offers a final resting place for people with their pets. The cemetery was established in 2010, and it is one of the few in the country to offer side-by-side people/pet interment.
Check out what he had to say in this short video:
He provided a tour of the grounds, which is pet friendly. People are welcome to bring their animal companions to visit the spot where their other beloved pets are laid to rest. Just make sure you clean up after them!
One woman, Carmelita Gonzales, is already interred in a niche wall with the remains of 17 cats – at last count. As they die, more are added to her niche. There’s also the option of placing cremated remains in an ossuary. It’s a nine-foot-deep “wishing well” with a cover. Pets can be memorialized with a tile on a nearby wall or a sidewalk pavestone.
The first animal buried there was Dexter the guinea pig. They also have a sun conure named Sydney buried at Best Friends Forever. They do have space for the cremated remains of horses, which can weigh as much as 30 pounds – human cremated remains average 3-5 pounds.
Best Friends Forever actually had a burial there last week, but I missed it. A mother and son watched the burial of their family dog.
* * * * * * * * * *
- Spend a few minutes reflecting upon pleasant memories of your pet
- Contribute to an animal protection group
- Volunteer at an animal protection group
- Create a small memorial in a flower garden in your yard
- Plant a tree or a shrub as a living memorial
- Think about your late pet. Look at old photos. Talk about your pet with others who were familiar with it. Reflect on all the great memories you made with your pet. If you lost your pet unexpectedly, try to keep your thoughts positive.
- Visit your pet’s burial site. Make a tribute to your pet by decorating its burial site with something it may have enjoyed in life. Talk to your pet while at the burial site.
- Create a small memorial in your pet’s honor. Plant trees, shrubs and flowers to memorialize your pet. These things can remind you of your pet long after National Pet Memorial Day has passed.
- Donate money or time to a charity or organization in honor of your late pet. Choose an organization or charity based on your animal’s breed or a particular cause that is close to your heart. Animal shelters, rescue groups and humane societies all appreciate volunteers.
- Send sympathy cards to former pet owners. National Pet Memorial Day does not have to be a solitary affair. Include everyone who has lost a pet in your observance of National Pet Memorial Day.
Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, Catholic funeral, Mass
Patrick Heckler was also known as Paddy Mae – especially when he donned wig, makeup and costume as a drag queen. He was a hair dresser, a bartender, a leader in Albuquerque’s gay community, and he was a Catholic. After a Memorial Mass at Risen Savior Catholic Community, he was remembered at an upbeat Celebration of Life reception.
The Mass featured the singing of “Amazing Grace” and a responsive singing of the 23rd Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” and “Allelujah.” The scriptures were Romans (nothing can separate us from the love of God) and John 11:17-43, the story of Jesus and how Lazarus rose from the dead.
Father Tim Martinez knew Patrick and went to him for haircuts. Even though Pat had lung cancer and was on oxygen, he’d still go outside to smoke, holding the canula as far away from the lit cigarette as his arms would reach. He was smoking in spite of everything. “A year and a half ago, we talked about this day. He wanted it to be something everyone remembered and no one would be sad,” said Father Tim. “He had the gift of hospitality and stage presence. That’s how I remember him.”
“Patrick dared to believe this wasn’t the end. We will get to see others we love again. Patrick’s wish was that we not be sad. Even death cannot take away the bonds of love we establish in this life,” he said. “Patrick’s got a stage in heaven and has recruited angels to be his backup singers. As Jesus said of Lazarus, ‘Untie him and let him go,’ we untie Patrick and let him go to God who will take away pain and let him breathe deeply. We look forward to the day we’ll meet again in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.”
The Mass was prepared and those who wished to participate came forward. Afterward there was a moment of silent meditation.
Then the priest did a unique farewell ceremony with the family. A white cloth-wrapped box that held Pat’s cremated remains was on a table near the front of the church. The family gathered and put their hands on the box and/or upon each other, so everyone had a physical connection. “And now the time has come to say goodbye for now, but not forever,” said Father Tim. “We’ll meet again in the Kingdom of God. Now say a prayer in your heart of goodbye.”
A prayer, with the response “Receive his soul, receive him to God most high” and a closing prayer ended the Funeral Mass. The family picked up the box of cremated remains and the flowers and led everyone over to the social hall for the celebration of life.
Many funeral services offer prayer cards for the deceased and some have programs. At the Mass, there was a lovely white dove image on a prayer card. When you got over to the celebration of life in the social hall, Pat’s friends in the Rainbow Roadrunners Car Club had made up a full color program with pictures of Paddy Mae in her full glory. Pat’s cremated remains were set up on a table with a rainbow backdrop of feather boas and heart-shaped candelabras festooned with purple flowers.
Everyone was invited to share the buffet luncheon. As pictures of Pat/Paddy Mae were projected on a screen, show tunes played over the sound system. Paddy Mae was renowned for her lip sync as Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.” See for yourself on this YouTube video:
Here’s what the obituary and program said about Pat:
HECKLER — PATRICK AUGUST (PADDY MAE) Age 70, was born July 21, 1942 in Clayton, NM and passed away August 15, 2012 in Albuquerque, NM. Patrick is survived by his brother, Donald Heckler; nephews, Joe and Chris Heckler; great-niece, Cierra; great-nephew, Sam; and numerous aunts and uncles. Patrick was preceded in death by his parents, Donald J. and Mary A. Heckler; sister-in-law, Eileen Green-Heckler; and long time partner, Peter H. Thomas.
Patrick was raised in Albuquerque and graduated from Valley High School in 1960, graduated from DeWolf Beauty School in 1963, and graduated from UNM in 1965. Patrick had a long and blessed career in Travel, Beauty and the Bar industry. He visited many places around the country and world. He met many new friends and clients through his travels.
He loved being with friends and loved to socialize. He adored and loved all his pets. Their love for him was unconditional. Patrick was a leader in the Gay Community by bartending in local clubs, performing in female impersonator shows for fund raising events, and by always helping friends.
The program also had these quotes: “He has departed from our midst, full of years, indeed, and of glory.” “A great man who was also one Hell of a Drag Queen.” He lived life his way. We will miss you Paddy, but we will never forget you.
Jim Wiley acted as the master of ceremonies for the sharing of memories. He noted Paddy Mae’s great sense of humor and wise advice dispensed while tending bar or curling the hair of blue-haired ladies. “He was a brother to me… or maybe a sister. He would give me advice that I didn’t want to hear, and I have yet to prove him wrong on any advice he gave,” he said. “I hope to be half the man he was and challenge anyone in this room to be half the woman he was.”
Cousin Jimmy Hemphill, five years younger than Pat, said, “He was my North Star. He believed in me. He encouraged me to be my true self and he challenged me to be my best self… Paddy Mae was effervescent. He embodied a contagious joyfulness that touched the hearts of nearly everyone who knew him.”
“I pray – to paraphrase Shakespeare – that God will take Patrick, and cut him out into little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with the evening sky.”
His friend James who worked with him at the Ultimate Changes salon talked with him every single day and was with Paddy Mae when he died. He spoke about an incident that happened three nights before he passed. They were watching TV together, and Pat said he saw three people in the room with them. James couldn’t see these people, and he asked, “What are they doing?” Pat said, “They’re drawing a diagram so I can find my way to heaven.” James, Manny and Paul were recognized for their support of Paddy Mae in his final months.
A few other comments: Paddy Mae would tell it like it is. He loved to shop. His zest for life is inspirational He embodied what it means to be a proud gay man. He was called up yonder because heaven needed a little more fabulous. Now we all know where he is, we just have to wait until we see him again. Move over Gabriel, a new Star has arrived…
If you’d like to add a memory or story, feel free to use the comment box below.
Filed under: 30 Day Challenge | Tags: 30 Day Challenge, memorial services
Opal died on July 23 of pancreatic cancer. She had planned ahead for her funeral, a memorial service held in the chapel of the Chester T. French Memorial Mausoleum. Rick Brittain, an employee at Sunset Memorial Park and a part-time pastor, was the celebrant for her service. Afterward, several people told Rick what a fine job he did and that they’d like him to do their funerals when the time came. Randy was one of those people.
Little did anyone know that a little more than a month later, Randy would suffer a massive heart attack and die at work at the age of 52.
Even though he didn’t feel good that morning of August 29, he didn’t want to go to the doctor. He went in to do his job as the manager of a Staples store on the west side of Albuquerque. He dropped in Aisle 10 and stopped breathing, felled by a 90% blocked left artery.
Everyone was stunned by this sudden death of such a well-loved man. Staples had to bring in a temporary crew on the day Randy died because everyone who worked for him was so broken up. Even a customer who learned about his death came because she wanted to be there for his family. His wife Lucy received hugs and support from almost 100 people who filled the chapel to standing room only. She said, “I’m surrounded by such good people.”
A recording of a bluesy guitar piece performed by Randy softly played over the sound system in the mausoleum. He loved guitars, both playing and collecting them. He actually did a very polished self-produced CD, playing all the instruments and designing a case cover.
James Dooley, who knew Randy for 35 years, described him as a fun-loving person, laid-back and easygoing. Once he asked Randy to join his bowling team and suggested coming out to practice. Playing off the famous line from the film Treasure of the Sierra Madre (or perhaps from Blazing Saddles), Randy replied, “Practice? I don’t need no stinkin’ practice!”
The photo board at the front of the room showed a smiling man with a mustache, out fishing, with his wife at Paris Las Vegas, and with his family. Lucy said he had a mullet years ago that she braided and cut off. She still has that lock of hair.
Rick Brittain opened the service by saying, “Guitar players love a standing room only crowd… I will not presume to tell a room full of his family and friends about Randy. Let me just say a few words: Hemi. Les Paul. 12-bar blues. Valle Grande. I ‘get’ this guy because we like so many of the same things.”
He opened the floor for comments, and cousin Brenda shared some stories from their childhood together – their birthdays were only two weeks apart. One Christmas they both got peppermint Lifesaver story books and they ate them all at once, so much they got sick. And they played rubber tipped dart guns, but then replaced the darts with crayons – the folks weren’t too keen about that. And he’d play his guitar for her and she just loved to lay back and listen.
Pastor Rick shared the poetry from First Corinthians 13:
I may speak in the languages of humans and of angels.
But if I don’t have love, I am a loud gong or a clashing cymbal.
I may have the gift to speak what God has revealed, and I may understand all mysteries and have all knowledge. I may even have enough faith to move mountains. But if I don’t have love, I am nothing.
I may even give away all that I have and give up my body to be burned. But if I don’t have love, none of these things will help me.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep score. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. Love never ends.
“Love never ends. How cool is that?” said Pastor Rick. “As that great philosopher Stevie Ray Vaughn said, ‘Yeah I love my baby….Heart and soul. Love like ours won’t never grow old. She’s my sweet little thang….She’s my pride and joy. She’s my sweet little baby….I’m her little lover boy’.”
Randy loved music, fast cars and his family. He felt that rock and roll peaked in the 70s. “I am honored to be with you today because we could have hung out together and fished, played music and argued whose wife was prettier,” he said.
“Remember those trips to the lake and Jemez, and crazy times together,” he said. “Be glad that it rips your heart out that you lost your Dad, because for some people, it wouldn’t make any difference.”
“I don’t want to presume to tell you what to do, or offer schmaltzy, sentimental words about why this happened,” he said. “I only know one person in the Universe who can answer your questions, and that’s Jesus Christ.”
He closed with a prayer of thanks for Randy’s life, for comfort in the face of the loss of a dear sweet mother and a faithful loving son, and to bless and help those who mourn. Randy’s ashes will be divided among his three adult children and a portion will be scattered in the Valle Grande caldera in the Jemez that he loved so well.
If you’d like to share a memory or thought, please use the comment box below. May Randy Staggs jam with all the guitar greats in heaven.