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Ceremony

November 11, 2017

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Today the 1928 Prayer Book and the 1940 Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America were used to mark the death of my sibling: it was devastating – and not for its liturgical poignance and expertise.

For the last 35 years, I knew none of my sister’s friends. She died last month without a will or direction. But it was clear, from personal inspection that Dora’s passing was an encounter with an isolated hoarder’s existence in a life that had collapsed around work.

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So it was a tender scenario to honor and register that life to the the Christian legacy my pre-transition brother had, and I hope had sustained in his life as my sister. But that was just the context for the extraordinary gift of love that simply happened this morning.

We gathered in a 1,000 seat building in the choir pews up at the altar, very comfy for the dozen who were expected. Just before the 10AM service the doors opened up and first 8 then 4 then 2 then 1 came in, and filled all the choir pews. My sister’s office, en masse, came from 100 miles away to be with her this last time, based on the one call I had made to a supervisor the week before.

No one already there knew them.

We began this traditional ritual with the stark, cutting words that make me wince and squint across the centuries to the universal end of presence in this world:
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and then a wonderful homily by the Rector, based on what he knew was a difficult life with what remained of her family in the estranged 15 years since the transition from Win Dickinson to Dora West happened.

But this morning an unexpected thing just happened: The power of presence in the packed choir pews changed a ritual into an encounter with what we all have within us, but most often avoid. It is hard to openly embrace a faith in our inability to control, define, or even understand our place confronting the end of existence in this place. The openness and embrace of these strangers in our midst, those who obviously loved my once intimate sibling, changed everything.

I rose to add a simple stream of memory before we completed the liturgy and walked my sister’s cremains down to her final resting niche.

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The flood of their love hit me with a force that was not understandable then, or now. I had to change how I was to offer my thoughts with a simple truth; “I cannot tell you how much your presence means for us today. It is a gift, an act of Grace and love no words can express. You have come a long way simply to be part of a person you know, but is a mystery to me and I am beyond grateful.”

I then offered what I had already written:

Thank you for coming today, a deep thanks to Luk, Walden, Elise

Services like this are for the living and connect the living to the incoherent mysteries we all confront at the end of life.

Today, this is the last transition in a life of changes.

I was raised with Win Dickinson until I was 18, so I can attest that his early years had more than their share of pain and disappointment.

That truth was clear 30 years ago, when he insisted on giving something like what I am doing now, a memorium, at our father’s funeral. My father was neither understanding nor kind when it came to many things. That shaped my brother’s life, to the point, that upon my father’s death, Win rose to create the hero father we never had: a full construction our mother never understood.

However I never knew Dora West, she absented herself from the lives of those who knew her as Win Dickinson – so I prayed for her, here, every week for the last 23 years.

Dora’s transitions over the last 50 years were in hope of creating a life she wanted, and I hope she found peace. The truth is none of us are owed any outcome and get what we think we deserve. We really do not control much. God has given us life and we find our way here on earth. Whether it’s the gifts we have been given or the burdens we endure, we did not earn them.

Dora’s life here is now over, and in the end Dora silently relied on her brother to effect this transition. But despite all our efforts, the last transition is not up to anyone here. This last change is between Dora and God, the God that made her, and us, that heard her prayers, that is here now, then, and always.

I clutched the box of cremains and we then walked down to the end of the church, singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” – two groups – the Connecticut Episcopalians, a caucasian bunch and those from The Westchester Bus Company who were primarily black, in equal numbers, joined in incoherent but deep connection to a soul now away from us, and not fully understood. I slipped her vessel, built by the shop I had worked for for 9 years, 30 years ago, into the Columbarium I had helped create a decade prior where my wife and I will be all too soon. Prayers, straight from Thomas Cranmer and the 16th century accompanied the Protestant Music as my sister’s friends looked on, some weeping.

They loved her.

At the finish, I met every one, deeply hugged people I did not know – heard halting words of love and appreciation, then retired for a 10 minute debriefing before about 10 of his posse – most knew nothing of a life when she was my brother, they had no clue about the actual facts of her passing, even though her best friend from work had gone to Dora’s house when she simply failed to show up at work, and called the police who found her dead in bed. Their open faces and wide eyes received whatever I could give.

There are complications and imponderables that I tried to convey: unresolvable realities that are present, but those are irrelevant to the greater reality of what we were experiencing: for that 30 minutes we were immersed in the love that knows no location, situation, circumstance, judgment or expectation. We were exquisitely different and fully together in the most essential reality of the human condition: Death and Faith.

We knew that we knew not much about the facts of her private passing, but we felt the power of acceptance, devotion and forgiveness that overwhelmingly binds us to the greatest truth of our lives: the abiding irrational love of the God that made us.

It was elemental, and it was devastating – at least to me. Senseless love across geography, tradition, history: transforming but essential. Powerful and incoherent. Just love. Just God.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike and Kim permalink
    November 11, 2017 4:35 pm

    And at the bottom of Pandora’s Box, there was Hope.

  2. Suzy Frisch permalink
    November 12, 2017 3:10 pm

    Beautiful and heartbreaking, Duo. Wishing you peace. May Dora’s memory be a blessing.

  3. Johanna Fried permalink
    November 12, 2017 4:14 pm

    Dora
    May you rest in peace

    Love your Trans cousin

    Johanna Fried

  4. George Egan permalink
    November 13, 2017 2:14 am

    Beautiful powerful story of love! Thank you for sharing it. George Egan, Madisonite.

  5. November 16, 2017 3:28 am

    Thank you all: life goes on

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