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What to Say at a Memorial Service

Posted Jan 31 2012 3:07pm

What to say at a Memorial Service.

This isn’t the blog or article I ever wanted to write, but as I gather my thoughts for my brother’s memorial service I am reminded that others struggle today and many, many days before and after me to find words that capture and comfort after a loved one has departed.

I could give tips and bullet points, but it’s best to share my heart.

These words are for my brother, Benny. I hope there’s something you can take with you.

I didn’t even know I had a brother until I was 23. I was adopted out of the family at four years old, but I always dreamed of having a big brother. Maybe we know. Deep down.

I met him on his one year sobriety date at a large AA meeting. Perhaps some of you were there. Benny said he embarrassed to meet me that day, to be sharing what all had led him to that day. I can’t tell you anything he did. I can’t even tell you anything he said. All I remember was saying in my heart over and over, “I have a brother!”

I feel that same way today. I have a brother. His name is Benny.

Not I had a brother. I don’t really believe much in this linear time thing, and I don’t believe Benny is no longer here or that our relationship is over.

Still, I miss him. Susan, his wife, Zach, his son, they miss him. So many will miss him.

My heart is flooded with  memories. I called Zach and heard his voice the other day–embedded in this young man’s voice is my brother. I could hear my brother, fall into him, and I see him now–in all of you–in the countless ways he impacted all of our lives.

For me, Benny will always be that young man who had to have his suit altered because his surfer shoulders were too big for his coat. Benny will always be the backyard wanderer out for a smoke, out under the trees, thinking, being. Benny will always be his laughter, the tease in his voice, his Indian heritage tattoo, the books he read, his wedding day standing under the arbor he built, the cedar table he made me, and that unbelievably long and meandering voice mail where he played Indian music for a good five minutes making me slow down, laugh, writhe, and learn to wait….

I don’t know why he’s not here. I have the facts, but it just doesn’t register with my heart. Everything in me says, no, it can’t be. Benny’s going to come sauntering through that door. He’s going to pour himself a cup of black coffee and he’s a plaid shirt and he’s supposed to be here. I can’t, you can’t not hurt, but at least today we can hurt and remember together. Susan, Zach, we can’t take away an ounce of your grief, but I want you to look around you and take heart in this sea of love. It’s for Benny, yes, but it’s also for you.

Each of us are here because Benny touched your lives. He changed your lives. Benny had this way of loving people. He was generous, sometimes too much so, and he had a damn good sense of humor, a way of drawing you to him.

Our family is humbled by Benny’s legacy, by all of you who came to remember him. In so many ways, the recovering community knew Benny better than we did. He shared his soul, his fears, his journey with you–and you with him. Thank you. Thank you for the strength you gave my brother. Thank you for being there for him.

Something in me believes that death doesn’t diminish us. It expands us.

Benny is now in me–in you, in you. All the crap and the pain is gone. The good remains. His words of encouragement. His honestly. His laughter. His quiet ways. The more we share our stories, the more we listen and remember his stories, his moments of insight, and even his simple presence, the more Benny lives.

Benny’s passing was a shock. None of us were ready to say goodbye, and yet all I know to do with this is to allow as much as I can for the sorrow to wash through. That’s all I know to do. With Benny, holding on to the good is easy. There is so much good.

We, his family have learned some hard lessons, lessons for all of us to remember.

Show–and tell your those you love–how very much you love them.

Remind them of their own light, and remember them well.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

ee cummings

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