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Dawn arrived clothed in a blanket of gray clouds and threatening skies. I wondered if the memorial service at Ocean Isle Beach would still happen.
The question lingered in my mind as sadness gripped me. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t. I wished I had known the young woman who had died, but I didn’t. I only knew her mom. Sorrow at her loss gripped me though my tears remained unshed. Rain or shine, beach or church, Hubby Dear and I could do nothing but be present as companions at this time of unique heartache and grief.
The silence in our car as we drove was as heavy as our hearts. Questions about life and death were unspoken but stayed as piercing swords. What would we say? What could we say? What should we say? How could words console hearts that were inconsolable? We knew they would be less than effective, but we’d likely say them any way.
Drawing close to the beach, we saw throngs of mourners. Friends, relatives, acquaintances, as well as men and women, who worked with Megan, or her parents Sarah and Chris, gathered to be with them. We joined them.
Some were strangers to others. All were present as physical proof that Megan had lived and would continue to live in their minds, hearts and memories. Life and death would entwine at Ocean Isle Beach. This would not be solely a commemoration of the past, but a concentration on the present and a contemplation of the future.
Neither Jean nor I had been to a memorial service on the beach. We had participated in smaller events, more intimate family circles, but never one so large and composed of such diverse people. We were unsure of the proceedings, but extremely touched by all we heard and saw. We were moved by the chosen music, songs that described a young woman who loved life to the full, a woman who loved to dance and to choreograph the steps as an expression of joy—hers and that of others.
We heard stories told by lifelong friends and newly acquired ones. The tales told of her beauty, inside and out. They contained different details, each of which were most meaningful to the teller but all mentioning identical traits and virtues that marked the wonder of one woman’s journey through a short lifetime.
All spoke of a 28-year-old who knew her own mind, had her own dreams, and boldly ventured forth to make her vision a reality. They spoke of a nonjudgmental person, one who accepted people fully as they were and loved them deeply without exception.
Tears were shed, but mine did not surface. I guess I needed more time to become acquainted with the daughter of the woman who had accepted me when I was ill and angry and non-compliant.
Whatever the reason, I listened with dry eyes and pondered the immensity of sorrow witnessed in the solemn faces before me. I could feel each individual’s pain as they felt the loss of a woman who meant so much to so many.
I also witnessed the power of God’s love expressed in those stories. It was a love that warmed every sorrowing heart, every icy question that froze folks into concerned silence that dried the tears of mourning flowing from the faces of family and friends.
The love was deep and faithful. It was etched in the hugs offered and received generously. We had been told to come to the memorial in casual clothing, comfortable attire, symbolic of our coming as we are to be accepted as we are. What more can Love ask or do?
When I spoke of this event to one of my own daughters, she asked if the young children were there. She sighed sadly when I said they were. I quickly told her that this was not a time where sadness overwhelmed the group, but one where life and death entwined.
The children were offered a memory of a mother who was loved as she was. Their loss will surely be deepened as they grow older and more cognizant of it, but it will also be mitigated by a sense of profound reverence for all God gives to us in life and death.
At a given moment, we were told that an array of pink balloons was to be released. Some were nearly scarlet, others a pale hue. They reminded us that life’s various shades are equally beautiful. The balloons were festooned with messages. They would be witnesses to the world that a wonderful woman lived. Her death would yet bring vitality in new ways.
Slowly and deliberately, the balloons were released from their bounds, but still held tightly in the hands of the family. They needed to take a few moments before they could let them go. It would be reminiscent of the lifetime it would take to let Megan go, and allow her to return in ways now unimaginable.
The moment happened. With the raising of hands, the balloons were released. The wind picked them up, gently directing them away from the sea. Marvelously, all of them stayed together, even the one or two that had inadvertently escaped the group release. They wafted as family, traveling as one, into the bank of clouds that made them invisible to us, but viewed on the other side of the cloudbank in an area unknown to us.
I cried. Silent tears called to me, enlightened me. I saw Megan being sent as a disciple to preach the gospel to all people. I knew a woman whose heart was so big that her compassion could not be contained. The song played as a prelude to this portion of the memorial that put words to my vision; the vision I am sure was shared by all.
Sissy’s song stated, “Why did she have to go so young, I just don’t know why. Things happen half the time without reason, without rhyme. Lovely, sweet young woman. Daughter, wife and mother, makes no sense to me. I just have to believe she flew up to Heaven on the wings of angels by the clouds and stars and passed where no one sees. And she walks with Jesus and her loved ones waiting. And I know she’s smiling, saying don’t worry ‘bout me.”
We won’t worry, Megan. We’ll give you the treasure of entwining your death with all life.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at email@example.com.