Celebrating a Wonderful Life
This past weekend I was in Sutton, Québec. Dom, Yvonne’s husband, had invited me to speak and officiate at her memorial service. Saturday was beautiful, a warm summer day. Elizabeth, Yvonne’s close friend, and I, woke early to set up the chairs on the front lawn, set up the tables for food, and make flower arrangements from the flowers Dom’s mom grew in her gardens. We ate beautiful bread from the local french bakery. Dom made coffee that he finely ground in a contraption involving an electric drill. Kevin, Yvonne’s father, brought out some cold purple potatoes he had boiled and brought with him on the airplane. We ate while Elizabeth taught me the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese. It’s the details of the day that I loved.
When the time came, the community began to arrive. Older men and women who had grown up on the mountain, still skiing in their 80’s. Young men who also grew up on the mountains, now ski coaches or instructors. A repair man/yoga instructor with piercing eyes and his partner from Brussels. A young couple who grow vegetables on their organic farm. Each of them warm towards us in their affection for Dom and Yvonne.
When the service began, Jack, a truck driver, read the French that Alain and Karin had so lovingly translated from my English while camping in Manning Park. Dom shared, and then his ninety-plus year old father played Leonard Cohen’s “Alleluia” on the harmonica, key change and all. After the benediction, we all walked over to the cherry trees Dom had planted—one for the future, and one whose soil contained her ashes. Then, the food came out—cheeses, cured meats, bread, wine, coffee. People lingered, eating and drinking in each other’s company until late in the evening.
So many people came up to say “thank you”. Said they had never been to anything like it. I know what they meant—most of them had only been to more formal Catholic services. I am not sure I have experienced anything quite like it, either. It was so homey. I hope I have a memorial like that—at home, in my garden, with a picnic afterwards for the people I love.
What struck me most is the way that sorrow and love made us one. Richard Rohr says so often that the two transformative powers in the universe are love and suffering. To see both mingled together—love and suffering—and to see these forces palpably weave strangers into kin for a day was stunning. We were so different—Chinese/French/English-language speaking, urban/ rural, Christian/non-Christian, pro-vaccine/anti-vaccine—and yet for the day, none of these binary categories divided us. We were all one, making space for each other, showing interest and kindness and affection towards each other.
At the end of the night, Elizabeth and I were standing in a little circle with Dom’s parents, Marie-Paul and Albain. Jack was speaking when Marie Paul reached across and grabbed my hands. Smiling, she fixed her eyes on mine and squeezed my hands. Then she held my gaze without blinking.
Everything in me wanted to look away. It was so raw and vulnerable, this fierce love she was sending me through her eyes. I made myself stay still and simply receive her gaze, trying to mirror back my own affection for her. It felt like an eternity, although perhaps it lasted thirty seconds. I will never forget that moment. A moment of strange grace.
Then she reached out her arms and drew us all in, until we were all hugging. “une journée incroyable!”, she whispered. A phrase I translated incorrectly: “Yes, she had a beautiful journey in life.” She repeated again until I understood, “An incredible day.”
Deep peace and blessings.
Rev. Anne Baxter Smith
Pastor of the Church at Southpoint
If you’re planning to join us for an in-person service, please read our Covid policy. It’s kept up to date, here.
In-Person 10:00 am on Sundays at 15639 24 Avenue, Surrey!
Our Summer Services
– a 45-minute intergenerational service with communion
– linger to eat and talk post-service
– to help with iced coffee and nibbles, email Katie
Unless otherwise noted, we meet in-person in the Sunnyside church building at 15639 24 Avenue.
Sun. Aug 21
Intergenerational service at Sunnyside
Anne hosts Steve and Michelle Jackson on the friendship bench.
Sun. Aug 28
Join us for an All OUT at the Hardy home: 14386 32 Avenue, Surrey.
Thank you to Wendy, John, Katie and Dan for hosting in their big backyard!
There will be live music provided by “His | Hers”… invite a friend!
– Bring a folding chair and a sun hat
– Please park on 144 Street and not in the driveway — thank you.