We stood, gathered in a church courtyard. There were about 30 of us standing around a plot of ivy covered ground. A hole in the dirt is waiting for the ashes of my big sister, Kay. We were her family gathered from around North America to honor a woman who had blessed so many. Her husband, David, had asked me to say a few words on behalf of the family. How do you sum up the life of one who has lived a rich and full life?

As I stood and looked out on the gathered family, I realized that words could not do what the community who encircled her ashes did by its very presence. There before me were people with northern European heritage, African heritage, Native American heritage, Vietnamese heritage, Guatemalan heritage. They were all in Kay's family. We had come from Vancouver BC, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York City, Virginia, Indiana, Southern California, South Dakota, Kentucky, Alabama, Texas, Illinois, Ohio. 

And we who were gathered were from every walk of life: grocery clerk, chef, teachers, business women and men, unemployed, nurses, professionals of all kinds. Some of us had multiple degrees, others had wisdom learned on the streets. Some lived with physical challenges, others with emotional complexities. Some were gifted in speech, others in music, others in compassion, others in empathic presence. All of us were there together, in all our diversity, because we were loved by Kay and we loved her.

What more needs to be said. Kay and Dave lived a life of generous hospitality. They always made room for more. Their family expanded the longer they lived, opening to people who were seeking home. There was always more room in Kay's heart even if she didn't have any more room in her home. Kay and Dave grew a global family and discovered the challenges and gifts of creative diversity.

It seems to me that the world needs more people like my sister Kay and her husband Dave. If we are going to learn to live together in this shrinking planet, we have to become family where all are honored whether they are like us are very different. As I say good-bye to my big sister, I say "Thank you Kay, for allowing me to see in you and Dave a taste of the reign of God. May your spirit infect us that we too might honor all as you did."


Significant relationships are rich and complex. Your relationship with someone you love is deeply conflicted and filled with tenderness and tension, desire and duty, affection and anger. Such a relationship that has lasted a long time has woven a fabric of knowing and caring that wraps itself around you and sustains you.  It is a necessary part of how you know yourself.

When that relationship ends because of death, divorce or someone moving away, the disorientation and pain can be really frightening. The temptation is to avoid the pain and to to stay busy or to depend on some drug or alcohol to protect us from feeling it so sharply.  We may just move on and pretend that it didn't really matter that much.

But as I have said, re-membering is important to the creating of a new relationship with the departed person. It helps us organize the memories of the person so that we can continue to relate to their presence that still lingers after their absence has become real.

But remembering well is also a way of shrinking the size of that person's presence in our lives so that it becomes "pocket-sized". When that presence is smaller, there is room for new life.  It is helpful to remember the person long enough and well enough that you can create some small reminder of the essence of the meaning that person had in our lives. When their presence becomes memorial-sized, we are able to honor their memory but move forward to grow the new relationships that will enrich and sustain us.

This is why nations and cities create memorials of significant events in their history.  The past matters. Memorials honor the complexity and the rich meaning of events where fundamental change occurred and many sacrificed so much as a result of the event. But, the past can't control the future. It needs to be honored but not become a prison.  Memorials help us remember and be free to move forward into the new world.

When you lose someone significant in your life, create a memorial that can remind you of their meaning for you and free you to live the new life that you have been given.