“The greatest among you will be your servant.”
There is not a day that goes by that I do not remember my Auntie Isabelle. She was the best. When my mother was a little girl, Auntie took care of her after school. They went horseback riding and sledding and shopping downtown. Auntie, who never had children of her own, was like a second mother to my mother.
Years later, when I was 12 years old and my mother began to suffer the ravaging effects of Huntington’s Disease, my mother moved back in with her mother, 3 hours away. Auntie, who lived downstairs with her husband, came upstairs numerous times a day to help in whatever ways she could. For 17 years, my grandmother and Auntie were a care-giving team. Being Polish, the house had to be spotless. It was not unusual for me to arrive for a visit and see Auntie with a mop in hand, cleaning her sister’s kitchen floor. (Which had to be done daily.)
Years later, after my mother and grandmother died, I traveled weekly to visit Auntie. When I became pregnant, it was Auntie who made sure I had a beautiful maternity wardrobe. After Pete was born, she always greeted us with a home cooked meal and baked goods to take home. Banana cake was a favorite. And if she noticed there was a sale on paper towels or Kleenex or dish detergent, the back of my car would be loaded for the ride home.
Auntie had wanted to be a nun, but her parents wouldn’t allow her. “You stay home with us” they told her. Throughout her 88 years, she was faithful, hard-working, thoughtful, generous and loyal, always there for the family who needed her.
Auntie was a true servant of God. In her presence, I felt seen, heard, appreciated, and loved. And she was so much fun – even into her 80’s, Auntie played Wiffle ball with me and little Pete in her backyard.
After they are physically gone, the people who have lovingly served us, continue to mean the most to us. They are forever connected to our hearts by an invisible thread; they are lights whose spark of love never goes out.
Over the last twelve months, this community has said goodbye to so many precious people. By remembering them and other loved ones who have died, we keep our spiritual connection to them alive and allow their gifts of love to continue to nurture our lives.
Of course, even the most saintly loved ones weren’t perfect. Some of us have said goodbye to people with whom we had very complicated relationships – whose inability to be present for us in ways that we wanted or needed caused our hearts deep pain. It can be the work of a lifetime to remember the best of them, to forgive and let go of the painful feelings that may be holding us back from our own peace of mind. We can embrace the best of our loved ones to help heal whatever brokenness we may feel.
To help you spiritually connect with a loved one or loved ones who have died, I am going to offer a brief guided reflection. At its completion, I will ring a bell to usher in by two minutes of silence. The bell will ring again and you will be invited, if you wish, to turn to someone sitting near you (or if you are on Zoom, in a breakout room) to share whatever you would like for 3 minutes each. Then we will have a candle lighting ritual – which I will tell you more about after our time of sharing.
Let’s take a deep breath. Please close your eyes, if you are comfortable doing so.
Who are you remembering today? See your loved one happy and at peace. Perhaps with a smile on their face. What brought them happiness? How did you witness their goodness? In what ways did they serve you or others, showing thoughtful care? How did you feel understood and loved by them? In what ways may they have struggled to be fully at peace, happy, or loving? What about them inspires you? What, if anything, may you need to forgive and let go of? How might you allow the best of them to live in you?
Within the silence of your own heart, you are invited to speak any words of gratitude, forgiveness, appreciation, or love to the person you are remembering or God… We offer our gratitude to God for the blessing of these loved ones in our lives. Amen.