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Memorial Service for Jane B. Dawson

 (This memorial service draws heavily from the work of the Rev. Ed Searle in parts)
 

Opening Sentences

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

Ecclesiastes 3: 1–7

A human life is sacred.
It is sacred in its being born.
It is sacred in its living.
And it is sacred in its dying.

Intentions

The sorrow and joy of life weave a tapestry of our individual lives as death gathers us once again to bid one loved, farewell and adieu; to search for life's deepest meanings; to seek the comfort and the healing women and men offer one another; to say "yes" to life's greatest expression—love. Love believes all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

At this time we are united with the wisdom and customs of all people in all ages. Though we are a small group of family and friends, we feel the connection of the ageless human community. Though we are just a few, our strength and our resources are great for they come from the deep well of all humanity. And in this spirit we join our individual feelings and thoughts as well as the faiths that sustain us separately into a harmony of remembrance and affirmation.

We shall celebrate Jane Dawson's living and we shall grieve her dying.

Today we must grieve Jane's death. But we must also celebrate her life. We will not let the shadow of death obscure the living person who touched your lives in many ways, filling your days with memories, meaning and love.

Let us be wise enough and let us be brave, this afternoon to remember honestly and bravely celebrate a human life—the life that was Jane Dawson's.

So we have come together. It is good that we have come together, because we need each other in empathy and consolation, and because we need each other in courage and wisdom: to face Jane's death, to celebrate Jane's life, and to show our support for Jane's family: Dale, Donna and Sylvia, those who knew her best and loved her most.

It is good—right and fitting—that we have come together, because human life is sacred in its being born, in its living and also in its dying.

Let us be in an attitude of prayer or meditation:

Let the faiths and philosophies that sustain us separately meld into a unity of the most human and of the universal, where differences dissolve in the awe-inspiring yet wonderful harmony of the moment.

Before the wonder of living and dying we are humbled. In the midst of grief we feel a river of sacredness. Out of our memories and unending affections flows a thanksgiving. In our gathered concerns and compassion, healing begins.

Let the gifts of courage, wisdom and thanksgiving come to each of us and swell among us today and in the days to come. Courage to face Jane's death. Wisdom to speak openly and honestly of loss. And thanksgiving for Jane's life.

So let it be. Amen.

 Reflection

As conscious and self-conscious life, we know that death is inevitable. We know too that death shapes our life. Most of the time we can accept death as an abstract principle—a dispassionate fact of life, part of the biological chain of generation begetting generation.

But when death becomes personal through someone we have known, respected and loved it comes in a variety of guises and triggers varying emotions. When death comes to one of many years as it has now, our grief is a quiet sadness. When it comes to one who has suffered or endured a long illness as it has now our grief is softened by a sense of welcome and even blessed relief.

No matter what guise death wears, we, being human, will struggle with it. Do not be perplexed by unexpected emotions which rise unbidden from the depths of your being. You may feel a steady anger. You may feel remorse, or worse, guilt for things you neglected to say or do for the one who is dead. You may fantasize about how things may have turned out differently.

Do not deny such emotions and their like. Accept them. Try to understand them. They are doors into life's deeper understandings.

Death though, always brings us face to face with life. There is an opportunity in this moment and there is the means to begin to live life again. From this moment on, our living and doing can be more virtuous and more abundant. This is one of the paradoxes of such a time as this. It has the potential to open us to life and living. And this paradox speaks volumes about the human condition.

Someone has written:

It is a miracle,
Nothing less than a miracle:
That flowers bloom in the spring;
That living thing begets living thing;
That we human beings emerge
Again and again
  from ignorance to knowledge,
  from hopelessness to meaning,
  from sadness to joy.
It is a miracle,
Nothing less than a miracle.

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 Affirmations

Love never ends. Our dead are immortal because we have loved them and they have loved us. For those who loved Jane, she lives on in you: in the ways she influenced and shaped you and in your memories of her.

Trust that your memories and the passing of time will lessen your grief. Know that through Jane's life that you have also been given life. You are more because she lived.

Let us all become strong in the conviction that in spite of death, the scheme of life is ultimately good. That is, I believe the message that Jane would have wanted us to remember. Donna tells me that she would have wanted no one to grieve overly much.

Readings

The following poems seemed to express thoughts that I imagine Jane would share:

The first one is by Dorothy Monroe.

"The Cost"

Death is not too high a price to pay
for having lived. Mountains never die,
nor do the seas or rocks or endless sky.
Through countless centuries of time, they stay
eternal, deathless. Yet they never live!
If choice there were, I would not hesitate
to choose mortality. Whatever Fate
demanded in return for life I'd give,
for never to have seen the fertile plains
nor heard the winds nor felt the warm sun on sands
beside the salty sea, nor touched the hands
of those I love—without these, all the gains
of timelessness would not be worth one day
of living and of loving; come what may.

The other poem is entitled "No Mourning, By Request"

Come not to mourn for me with solemn tread
  Clad in dull weeds of sad and sable hue,
Nor weep because my tale of life's told through,
  Casting light dust on my troubled head.
Nor linger near me while the sexton fills
  My grave with earth—but so gay garlanded,
And in your halls a shining banquet spread
  And guild your chambers o'er with daffodils.

Fill your tall goblets with white wine and red,
  And sing brave songs of gallant love and true,
Wearing soft robes of emerald and blue,
  And dance, as I your dances oft have led,
And laugh, as I have often laughed with you—
  And be most merry—after I am dead.

Remembering

Now we pause:

to gather our individual feelings and thoughts;
to remember the woman Jane Dawson was; and how she touched our lives;
to meditate upon the meaning of this occasion;
to say our private farewell.
In silence, we enter into this time of personal memory and meditation.

Amen.

Eulogy

Her name was Jane Barnard Dawson and she died last Saturday in Warner Robbins at the age of eighty-two, following a lengthy illness. She was born in Elyria, Ohio, the daughter of Cloy and Ida Barnard. She was a second generation American. All of her grandparents were German immigrants.

As a young woman Jane Dawson studied to become a nurse but abandoned her studies when she met the man who would become her husband, Harold Edward Dawson in Virginia. Together, they moved to Warner Robbins where they reared their four children—Donna, Michael, Sylvia and Dale.

Jane retired from civilian work at Robins Air Force Base. In her spare time she enjoyed painting and won awards for her artwork. She joined the Society of Decorative Painters and the Business and Professional Women's Association.

She loved animals and would rescue injured animals, nursing them back to health if she could. Her home was filled with the barking of dogs. Jane enjoyed horseback riding and nature. She loved going outdoors and feeling the warm sun on her face.

She was much loved by her husband, Harold, who preceded her in death five years ago. Though I never met them, the photographs of them together radiated warmth and mutual attraction. They were two people who, despite the frictions inherent in every relationship, were drawn to each other.

Those are the essential pieces of information about Jane Dawson. Let it be known that she didn't want a memorial service. What I think she didn't want was for her family and friends to make a fuss. Certainly she didn't want family and friends to mourn her death—to grieve for her sake. Life is for the living, not grieving, Jane might have believed.

Yet, in living after Jane we should also consider that she was unique. Consider these points:

  • Jane liked being unconventional. At a time when the American television screens were filled with reserved, motherly images like Jane Cleever, Jane Dawson did not cook at all. She had her own way of doing things and would not be pressured by the bonds of social convention.

  • Jane might have been a feminist before the word "feminism" was created. She could not understand why women could not do as they pleased. She could not understand why some would want women to stay in constrained societal roles. Jane lived by her own rules because she could not live any other way.

  • Jane liked having fun. She chose clothes, shoes and jewelry for their outrageous qualities rather than fashion or conformity. She had a taste for the grand gesture or the bright and bold. When she went on vacation with her daughter to Florida she made sure that the car that they rented was a bright red convertible so they would stand out on the drive to the beach. At the time she was in her seventies!

Jane, for all her interests and tastes, was not the kind of person who joined many organizations. Her time was reserved for children, husband, work and private pursuits. Perhaps when one is unconventional it is difficult to participate in groups. Perhaps when one is very sure of the way things ought to be done, it is difficult to deal with others who think differently. She was though, close to her family in her own way. She shared many of her thoughts with her sister Eileen, who lived in North Carolina.

For Jane, life was for the living—as fully as possible and in her own way, which she did with style and feistiness. She will be missed. But those who knew her are enriched so much more for her having lived.

Let us now take a moment to reflect on Jane's impact upon our lives.

Sharing

Jane's family will now share their memories of their mother and grandmother.

(Musical Interlude)

Closing Words

Please rise as you are able as we conclude this service of remembrance and affirmation for the life of Jane Barnard Dawson.

Humbly we stand in the face of death.
Confidently we stand with Life.
Ours is the strength of many. Indeed it is the strength of all humanity throughout all time; because we share one fate and great compassion.

May understanding go with us and peace, too, that we may live together in charity, compassion, peace, and joy. In this spirit let us, individually and together, go forth to live and love.

Amen.

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The Subtlety of Water
"We Remember What It
   Means to Be Irish"

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Lessons from the Edge
I'm Here to Recruit You
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  © 2017 Larry W. Smith, Unitarian Universalist Minister. All rights reserved.