Did you watch the memorial service in Arizona last night? Judging from the reaction from most people, it set the right tone and was very healing. I’ve read many comments about the “pep rally” aspect of the service, which bothered some people, and had me remembering something…
One of my first acts as pastor at the church I now serve was to preside at the memorial service for a boy who died the day before his 9th birthday. The memorial service was during my second week on the job.
Thankfully I had some history and experience with his family. His mother was on the committee that chose me. Eric’s parents knew me, a little, though I never knew their son when he was well.
But I was at a loss on how to go about this. I asked several friends for advice and resources, and they were kind to send books, sermons and prayers.
A mentor of mine suggested a ritual that didn’t quite work for the service, but I filed it away for later. On what would have been Eric’s 10th birthday, a year and a day after he died, we gathered at the garden that had been planted in honor of Eric at his school. His entire class was there to remember him, to dedicate the stone bearing his name, and to plant pansies and bulbs. I talked about the flowers they were planting. Some would be enjoyed immediately, just as we were remembering him on that very day. But the bulbs would surprise us, popping up just when we had stopped paying attention to them. In the same way, memories of Eric would come up and bless us when we least expected them.
Then we sang Happy Birthday to Eric, imagining the great party that we hoped Eric was having. And at the end we did what my mentor had suggested a year earlier: we raised our hands into the air and yelled at the top of our voices, “YAY ERIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
It was visceral, to spend every bit of breath we had to cheer for that sweet boy, to know that children studying in the classrooms nearby would hear us. The emotion was large and tingly. It was a catharsis.
I thought about that last night as I heard the cheers reverberate on the University of Arizona campus. There are times that quiet applause and tears, delicately dabbed, are not adequate.