Join us for a multigenerational (at 11:00 a.m.) service serving as a time to remember all those whom we loved, lost, and hold in our hearts. Please bring a photo or memento of a loved one.
Many years ago, I read a book by author Kevin Brockmeier called “The Brief History of the Dead.” The premise of the book is based on eastern African (specifically Kenyan and other countries that speak Swahili) ways of talking about dimensions of space and time. It is a way to understand where our spirits go after we die. Brockmeier quotes James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me at the beginning of the book.
The quote describes this belief-
“humans can be divided into three categories:
Those still alive on earth,
the recently departed (sasha),
and the dead (zamani).
When people die they are sasha while people are still alive who remember them. When the last person remembering them dies, they go to the zamani and are then revered and recalled by name only.”
I would say, they become our ancestors who we revere and look to for guidance as we navigate our lives.
Prophets, mystics and countless philosophers have put forth ideas, beliefs and theories for what happens when we die. The only truth we know for certain that applies to every single human being who ever existed are two- we are born and we die.
We know what happens after we are born, some sort of living in some sort of place and with various events that take place throughout our lives.
We don’t know what happens when any of us die, when we are not here anymore.
We learn about the finality of death at different ages. We may learn about it when we are four years old when a beloved pet dies, or when we are teenagers and a grandparent dies or when we are adults and we have to bid farewell to parents, friends and yet more of our beloved pets.
It is when a loved one dies that our heart constricts, we may cry, we may sit with others who share that love and tell stories about our beloved.
By the time I was thirteen, I lost two members of my nuclear family. My sister died at one month old when I was four years old.
When I was thirteen years old, my father, Elsayed, died at the age of 42. We knew it would happen, he was ill, and we knew his illness was terminal. I can’t say we were prepared because I’m not sure that we can be truly prepared for someone who has become a part of us to one day be here, breathing, with a heartbeat and the next day gone, with what made them alive, no longer inhabiting their bodies.
Nothing can truly prepare us for that loss.
When my father died, my younger sister and I had been living full time with our mother, as our parents had divorced five years earlier.
My memories of my father were full of fun and visits to museums and twice we went to the New Jersey shore and to the town of Wildwood where there was a board walk, carnival games and rides. There were some painful memories too, but they didn’t seem as important for me to hold on to, what I wanted to hold tight to my chest was his sense of humor, his joy and his determination to live life to it’s fullest.
As for processing the death of my father, I would be sad at times, sure, but I didn’t really feel devastated about his loss until much later in my life. When I identified the black hole that I was living with, that I didn’t even realize was there, was the hole that was once my father’s life.
Twice in my life it hit me the hardest.
The first, was when I was in my mid-twenties and my father had been gone at least ten years. I remember being around a friend’s father and suddenly becoming overwhelmed with emotion. I ran into a restroom and just cried. I remember saying to a close friend, Brother Rob, a Catholic Marist Brother, that I thought I was “over” my father’s death.
He said, “Aisha, we don’t ever ‘get over’ the death of a loved one, the best we can do will be to work through it at different times in our lives when we need to.”
Second, and one of the saddest days of my life was when I was in my mid-thirties and the day, I realized that I wasn’t remembering the stories of times my father and I shared together.
I wasn’t remembering the smell of his aftershave, my father wore Old Spice and for at least ten years after he died when I would walk by someone with that scent, I would immediately smile and think of my father.
When I realized I no longer had these memories readily available, I felt a deep well of sadness overwhelm me.
I shared with a friend how I was feeling, and they suggested I talk to my Aunt Erika, she was married to my father’s brother and ask her to share the stories she remembered to help me hold on to his memories. I find myself talking to her often about my father to hold on to those memories of him as long as possible.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are good at memorials and celebrations of life. I once heard a UU minister say, as soon as someone dies, we go back to our Protestant roots; we make a casserole and bring it over to the family. I think we, not only as UUs, but as a heavily Protestant influenced American society struggle with the negative feelings of death and mourning. We want to immediately bury the person and “move on.”
I look at the cultures where the mourning process is not rushed. In the Jewish tradition, the family of the deceased sit Shiva, a seven-day mourning period. The Muslim mourning period is three days and up to forty days for a widow or widower. I learned from former East Shore member who served as a Chinook councilwoman, Kate Elliott that in the Chinook tradition, the name of the deceased is not spoken aloud for an entire year.
What does it mean for us to sit with sadness and grief? Why is our culture so afraid of these feelings? Of course, it is hard and painful, as it should be.
I took a parenting class once where our instructor told us the importance of letting our children sit with negative feelings. Whether they be disappointment, anger and even sadness. It is only by experiencing the negativity that we learn to work through it and strengthen our resiliency muscle.
No, it’s not easy, but feeling pain is part of what it means to be human.
Working through that pain in community and with the care and connection of others is also what it means to be human.
Strong connections are impactful and run deep. Parental connections are sometimes the deepest.
A friend and colleague, the Rev. Danielle DiBona, served as a hospice chaplain and for sixteen years she experienced sitting with people who are dying and their families.
When asked to share some of what she learned, she said that one of the things she noticed was that mothers are reluctant to die in the presence of their children. I know in our family, my mother in law did not die until her son, my husband, left her side after sitting with her for hours.
Shortly after he left and before her partner came to sit with her, she left us.
Part of the meaning making of grief and processing loss; is that we start to find new ways to connect with the person who has died. Often, we start by thinking about the person at their best and what we will miss the most.
Our faith community does its very best to be the container for those who are grieving. We gather for memorial services and provide comfort and solace to the families of those whose lives we lost. We tell stories and share memories of the people who were part of the East Shore family.
I’m thinking of Susan Morrisson, Dick Jacke, Paul Fussell, Doris Berg, and Earl Fleehart to name a few of the people who have passed away and whose lives touched mine here at East Shore. I carry my stories of my connections with them in my heart.
East Shore can be a place of solace and comfort for those in need, in many different capacities. We have teams of people whose ministry is to support everyone in this community when comfort is needed for example, the Pastoral Care Team, led by Milly Mullarky will visit in your home and call and be there when you need them. The Helping Hands Team organized by Carol Sinape will bring food and coordinate rides when needed. Of course, our Senior Minister Rev. Dr. Steve Furrer is always available for a visit or phone call.
I want to leave you with some of my memories of my father, Elsayed Mahmoud Khadr. He had a zest for life and adventure. In the sixties he lived in Russia where he met and married his first wife, Nina.
In the seventies, he immigrated to New York City and became a NYC Cab driver until he could get a job as a marine architect. He was part of the group of men who founded the first Mosque in Jersey City, New Jersey.
He had a wonderful sense of humor and was an extrovert who had many friends and loved a good party. I thank him for coming to the United States where he knew his children would have opportunities they would have not been afforded in Egypt. I live the life I lead thanks to him. Allah ya rahamec Ya Baba, Ana Ba Habic.
May we continue share our stories of those we loved and lost and strengthen our connections to those living with us now.
Amen and Ashe