I walked into the Heights Parents Center knowing no one. One of the people that I first met was named Marcie. Her child, Harry, was the same age as my Ryan. As new mothers, we were eager to meet other mothers and survive this thing called motherhood. Weekly for years, we met as a playgroup in each other's homes and playgrounds. We became close friends. But a few years ago, Marcie's husband was offered a job and they moved away.
A few months ago, we heard the horrible news that Margaret, Marcie's middle child had cancer. She fought a courageous battle but passed away a couple of weeks ago. Marcie's husband wrote a beautiful piece for the funeral. I don't know how he go through it. I wanted to share it so that you may hug your babies a little tighter tonight. I also included the priest's message from the service because it offers hope for all of us. It is long to read but if you are dealing with grief it offers a beautiful message. Bless you little Margaret and the Ashford family.
Margaret, a Remembrance
October 23rd, 2009
Earlier in this service, there was a reading that included the lyrics of one of Margaret’s favorite songs. Hannah Montana is a somewhat non-traditional source for this church, and for those of you who may not be completely familiar with her recent movie, the song is about what she learned from her father as she grew up. This remembrance is about what I learned from Margaret over the last five months.
Lesson 1: How to live
We have all heard we worry too much and should live more in the moment. And we all know this to be true. But for me it took watching Margaret to make this idea more than a bumper sticker slogan, and show me what it can really mean. Here is Margaret’s approach.
Dance. All the time. Everywhere. And when the chemotherapy makes your nerves too slow for ballet, go to ballet anyway and dance badly. And when you are too sick to even go to ballet, dance at home to Hannah Montana.
Every meal is an opportunity for a party. Bananas Foster is always appropriate. And when the radiation makes it too painful to eat Bananas Foster, eat sour patch kids. And when you cannot eat at all, draw pictures of Bananas Foster in preparation for the next party.
Paint. Especially flowers. Collect and press flowers. And when your father tells you not to open the press yet, because the flowers haven’t been in long enough – don’t listen to him, Hannah Montana notwithstanding.
Lesson 2: When to stop living
This is why lesson 1 is so important. When your whole life before you is reduced to a summer, every moment becomes sweeter. But then the therapy works, and works well. Perhaps there is hope. Then an unexpected seizure – maybe an infection we can fight, or perhaps the cancer returned. Life expectancy swings from decades, to weeks, then back to months or years, and finally days. How do you live with this? How can you plan when you don’t know how much time you have? Margaret’s answer is it doesn’t make any difference. Life expectancy is how grown ups think. Refer to lesson 1.
Lesson 3: How to die
Many people have sent tributes to Margaret over the last week. So many of you have memories of her sweetness and kindness. But as a father, let me tell you Margaret knew a thing or two about stubborn resistance too. Whether you are confronted by a parent telling you it is bedtime or a nurse with a needle, or the final approach of death itself – the procedure is the same. Fight. Fight for more time. Negotiate. Don’t give in without a concession. The parent may give you five more minutes. The nurse will give you a treat from the hospital toy box. Death may give you one last summer.
But when at last the time comes, leave with grace. When the months finally became days, Margaret left so quietly and peacefully, that by the time I actually said goodbye, she had already gone, hours before. I was left wondering whether I had actually said goodbye while I had the chance.
Then I saw that in a way she had been saying goodbye all summer.
And finally I realized that Margaret hadn’t been saying goodbye at all. Just teaching me lesson 1, how to live, in the way only she could.
Written by Stephen Ashford
A sermon preached at the funeral of Margaret Helen Ashford,
Friday, October 23, 2009, in St. John’s Episcopal Church,
West Hartford, CT by the Rev’d Joseph L. Pace
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Several times in the last week or so Marcie has told me that today was supposed to be a wedding and that it should, of course, have been not today, but about 15-20 years off in the future. Way back in the spring -- which seems ages ago -- Marcie told me that visualizing Margaret’s wedding -- imagining Margaret walking down this aisle on Stephen’s arm -- was one of the ways she managed to get herself through the various tests, radiation and chemotherapy and the hours and days of uncertainty and waiting and fear that surrounded Margaret’s illness.
Dreaming of a wedding while sitting in a hospital room is a great dream, a grand and wonderful dream. Parents should of course always dream -- and dream big -- for their children, whether they be 5 or 12 or 35. Children need our dreams.
Dreams not only lift up, but they can also be a bit contagious, catching others up in their power, inspiring even greater dreams, carrying others along in their joy and hope. Dreaming sends the mind on wonderful journeys -- certainly much more satisfying than staring at the walls of a hospital room.
Dreams are among the greatest expressions and testimonies of love -- we dream for and we wish the best for those we love. In fact, we can often dream bigger for our children than they can dream on their own. We are the ones who teach them to dream. Parents should, of course, dream and dream big for their children -- in doing so, they open their children’s worlds to greater possibilities and brighter horizons.
Marcie and Stephen were absolutely right to spend time these past few months dreaming of a wedding -- dreaming of the absolute best for Margaret. Parents must dream -- and dream big --for their children.
Life has taken another path and the wedding of the future is today a funeral. But the dreams and the love behind those dreams are not in the least bit diminished by the funeral we celebrate today instead of the hoped-for wedding.
Life has changed and Margaret has gone -- in the words of our faith -- from life to life, from strength to strength. Life is not ended, but rather changed. In death Margaret continues to be held in the arms of Christ’s love as well as in her parents’ dreams.
And, that same love -- that also gives us the power to dream -- that same love holds Harry and Nell and Stephen and Marcie and Margaret all together as one in Christ’s love -- nothing can ever undo the power of that love.
Life is changed, not ended. And, today is not a day to set aside hope, nor is it a day to stop dreaming; rather, today is a time to cherish those wonderful dreams and hopes and wishes and be thankful for the strength they have given all of us through the awful times of the last six months. For, it is such memories that really give life to love and enliven even life itself with unimaginable richness and joy. Such dreams and memories will serve not only to keep Margaret alive in the hearts of those who loved her -- they’ll also serve to keep everyone going in the face of death.
Death’s pain is ferocious -- it stings and stuns and hurts; it tears up the heart and works mischief in the mind and with the emotions... But, death’s pain is not triumphant. It is, instead, the love of God that triumphs and continues to hold us all together when death appears to have won.
One of the passages from Scripture Stephen and Marcie chose for today pulls together in a beautiful image just exactly what it is we are meant to do here this morning. In his vision of the triumph of God’s love John the Divine sees the heavens opened wide and coming down out of heaven comes a gift from God, prepared as a bride for her husband, a new home -- the New Jerusalem -- together with the promise and assurance
that God’s desire above all else is always to be with God’s people, pulling us together as one, comforting us, wiping away tears and crying and pain, undoing the power of death...that we all may be securely together forever in the power of God’s love --
for God’s home is always with us.
It is one of the greatest of visions -- greatest of dreams -- in the whole of Scripture, God’s wonderful, glorious dream for us. God, our parent, dreaming nothing but the absolute best for us, just as any parents would do for his or her children. Amen..
May Margaret’s soul, together with all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
The Open Road
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