Tuesday, January 19, 2010

glimpses of the memorial service

For his birthday, we took Dad out for dinner at Maggiano's, one of the better Italian restaurant chains in the northern Virginia area. We all ended up stuffing ourselves silly, and most of us had trouble sleeping until near dawn. Maggiano's, with its enormous portions, provided just the sort of vulgar excess we needed, I think: a chance to introduce some levity and enjoyment into a time of tears and quiet suffering.

Dad's birthday was this past Sunday, January 17, the day after Mom's memorial service. I'd like to write about how that day went, but for the moment, I'm going to leave you some glimpses of the ceremony-- glimpses in the form of the church program and some notes about the scriptural choices I'd made on behalf of the family.

The memorial service was a massive group effort. Many people from the church community and from Mom's Korean society helped prepare the food and refreshments at the reception; I created the PowerPoint slide show and drafted the overall liturgy, basing it squarely on the memorial liturgy for another family in our church. That template had been provided by Pastor Jeri. Almost everyone in the family contributed music selections to our liturgy; Debussy's "Clair de Lune" was my choice, while Dad chose the hymns "This is My Father's World" and "I Danced in the Morning." We all agreed on "Arirang" for the postlude; Sean picked the hymn "In the Bleak Midwinter" and carefully chose his Babadjanian and Rachmaninoff pieces, which he knew Mom had loved. I designed the program's cover, but it was Pastor Jeri who took it upon herself to review and finalize the program's overall format. Flowers came to us from all corners, and during both the service and the reception that followed, we were touched to see so many attendees-- probably well over two hundred. The photos people saw at the reception had been primarily gathered by Dad, but many had also been mailed or emailed to us by various friends. I sorted the pictures into decades, but David and Dad were the ones who painstakingly assembled the large display panels of Mom's life.

So: for purposes of remembrance, I'm placing some memorial-related materials in this blog post for you to peruse. As always, comments are welcome.

We begin with a look at the program cover:

Below: page 1 of the program.

Here's a YouTube clip of the Debussy piece. I tried to find a clip of the Babadjanian piece online, but I'm not sure such a clip exists anywhere other than in iTunes, where it must be purchased. That's a shame: it's a beautiful piece.

Below is page 2 of the program.

Our thanks to Mrs. Kopf-Perry, Mrs. Burns, and Mrs. Burns's daughter Beth for sharing their thoughts about and feelings for Mom.

Here's a YouTube clip of the Rachmaninoff piece that Sean and William played.

Below is page 3 of the program. People are still welcome to make donations to the American Cancer Society in Mom's name.

Mom's bio (the death date should actually read January 6, 2010, as can be found in the bio's text):

Instead of preparing a formal speech for my eulogy, I simply cobbled together some notes and spoke from them:

Below is a compilation of the scriptural passages that we had chosen to be read during the memorial service. My comments, which I'd submitted to Pastor Jeri along with the draft of the liturgy, are in italics.

Isaiah 40:28-31
NB: This “wings of eagles” passage seems somehow apropos.

John 1:1-5NRSV (to be read responsively)

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
And the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
And the darkness has not overcome it.

NB: I chose the above passage for what it says about Christ-nature, which unites creative love, light, and life. I also made, somewhat presumptuously, one verb tense change: the original NRSV text says, “...the darkness did not overcome it.” This struck me as a jarring clash of verb tenses.

Genesis 32:24-29NRSV

NB: I chose this passage, in which Jacob wrestles with an angel or with God, because of what it says about the nature of the relationship between humanity and the divine. Wrestling isn’t quite the same notion as struggle; the latter seems to imply a bit more desperation, whereas wrestling can be contentious in a variety of ways-- not always unfriendly, either. Jacob’s contest is an example of a rough but friendly encounter: in the end, he is deliberately hurt by his adversary, but he receives a blessing and is confronted with mystery when his demand to hear the wrestler’s name is rebuffed.

Our own encounter with the Nameless can often be like that: painful, rewarding, and not easy to categorize. Also of note in this passage is Jacob’s chutzpah in asking for the blessing and for the wrestler’s name. I was always impressed by a passage in a book called Comparative Religious Ethics that notes that one of Judaism’s major contributions to world religion was chutzpah-- in this case, a sort of cosmic audacity in the face of the Ultimate [cf. Job for another example]. Koreans know all about chutzpah, and Mom was no different from the rest of her people in that regard. She spoke her mind, she wanted the best out of life for her family, and she wasn’t shy about being demanding. The difference between her and Jacob, though, is that she would never have asked a blessing for herself.

Psalm 23KJV (read in unison)

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8NRSV

Matthew 6:25-29, 34NRSV

NB: This is the section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus evokes nature to remind us of the need for a present-oriented mindset. I chose this in part for personal reasons, not least of which is that I consider it a “bridge passage” in Christian-Buddhist dialogue. Buddhism is highly empirical and present-oriented; its focus is on mindfulness and compassion, which Buddhists see as two sides of the same coin. Nothing is stopping Christians from looking at life that way, either. Jesus is saying, “Look around you, and note how nature just is. That should be sufficient as you consider your troubles.”

I also chose this passage because of what it says about Mom’s heart. Even though she was often a consummate worrier, she also kept her head and responded to situations as they presented themselves. In Korean Zen, this is called “following your situation.” People who fail to follow their situation, who fail to look around them, get mired in all sorts of unnecessary, human-generated silliness-- problems caused by the desperate churning of their own minds. In her roles as Korean women’s society president and board member, Mom was often the calming influence on more heated personalities, putting out fires often caused by volatile combinations of pride and misunderstanding.

Jesus never explicitly said, “Just breathe, y’all,” but in asking us to consider the birds or the flowers, he was calling us to be silent and observant: to pay attention to the world, to turn outward, away from our own egos. The simple act of turning outward, of following our situation, is often enough to begin to introduce peace into the world. It’s the first step on the path of love. Which leads us to the second, and unsurprising, scripture selection...

1 Corinthians 13

I've published the above material here to offer a taste of what Mom's memorial service was like to those who weren't able to attend it. I also wanted to give those who did attend a chance to relive, for a moment, the ceremony they experienced-- and to afford them something of an insider's perspective re: rationales for scripture choices, eulogy notes, etc. I haven't asked Dad or David for permission to publish their eulogies, which is why they don't appear here as well.



Lindsay said...

Thank you for posting this! I was so glad Mom and I were there! It was a beautiful service.

gcotharn said...

A beautiful mother.

Katie said...

Kevin - I look forward to your blog everyday. Not only was it a tribute to your mother's struggle and life, it is a tribute to the men who carried her memory this beautifully. Even though it's hard to write this blog, MANY of us hope you do continue when you can. I, my family, and my friends have become very attached to your family's activities, thoughts, and day-by-day life. We are following your lives now.