Mom once told me how, at her own mother’s burial, the family was ushered away from the grave before the casket was to be actually buried. As the workers did the job, she felt compelled to watch, but felt she had to stand outside the cemetery fence. She was aching to be closer, and to participate, the process incomplete.
Now we have developed a tradition in our family. We dig the hole if we can, and we fill it in ourselves. I believe it is very important. An urn is not so hard to dig a hole for, even in the rocky ground of this cemetery. Especially for those who are strong and kinetically oriented (maybe less inclined to write eulogies), it gives a meaningful way to mourn… to feel the physical finality of death with your muscles against the hardness of the ground… to toss in a handful or spadeful of earth, actively obliterating the physical remains of your loved one from your sight forever.
Before placing the urn in the ground, we passed it around the circle, giving each person a moment to feel her weight in death, to be close to her physical manifestation on Earth, one last time.
Rev. Lee Simpson joined us Sunday to say the words of committal. She observed that the act of burying a unique work of art highlighted the fact that we were burying the remains of a unique human being.
Here we offer, in video, the full Memorial Service held in Trinity United Church in Mahone Bay, for those who could not be there or wish to re-experience it.
The Rev. Lee Simpson officiated at June’s express request.
The video starts with the piano prelude: Heather Kristenson playing “Somewhere My Love” (the theme from June’s favourite movie in her middle years, Doctor Zhivago) and the gentle harp prelude by Charles’ daughter-in-law, Valerie Bellamy, while the congregation settles in and the main actors arrange the scene a bit at the last minute.
The service starts at about 11 minutes 45 seconds with Charles’ welcome. If you wish to skip the preludes, you can jump ahead. But if you want to hear the beautiful harp music again, see the minister walk by with a box of tissues, and discern voices of family in the front rows as they meet, greet and discuss the scene, you might like to watch and listen.
The video ends with a piano snippet of Jerusalem (William Blake’s poem set to music by Hubert Parry, which has become the unofficial national anthem of England and offers a profound vision of building a better world really, not just a better England), which we sang for June in the hospital two days before she died. At that stage, she could hardly respond to anything physically, but she raised her arms high at the line “Bring me my chariot of fire.”
Thanks to June’s grandson Malcolm Sepulchre for taking care of the camera during the service.
Here is the program, if you’d like to follow along. Links open in a new window or tab so as not to interrupt the video:
The words to the hymns that are not in the insert are reproduced below the video, for your convenience.
WE SHALL GO OUT WITH HOPE OF RESURRECTION
(Tune: Danny Boy, Londonderry Air)
We shall go out with hope of resurrection; we shall go out, from strength to strength go on; we shall go out and tell our stories boldly; tales of a love that will not let us go. We’ll sing our songs of wrongs that can be righted; we’ll dream our dream of hurts that can be healed; we’ll weave a cloth of all the world united within the vision of new life who sets us free.
We’ll give a voice to those who have not spoken; we’ll find the words for those whose lips are sealed; we’ll make the tunes for those who sing no longer, expressive love alive in every heart. We’ll share our joy with those who are still weeping, raise hymns of strength for hearts that break in grief, we’ll leap and dance the resurrection story including all in circles of our love.
GOD BE IN MY HEAD
God be in my head, and in my understanding; God be in mine eyes, and in my looking; God be in my mouth, and in my speaking; God be in my heart, and in my thinking; God be at mine end, and at my departing.
Original song written for her mother by Pamela Holm (guitar and lead vocal). With Bev Shaw on violin, Heather Holm on accordion, Bev and Heather plus Dorcas Beaton, Valerie Bellamy and Heather Kristenson on backup vocals, and Peter Heron on djembe.
My mother wrote this poem about 1977. I remember her dancing around the kitchen, so pleased with the verses she had created. After she died, I rediscovered the poem and set it to music, trying to convey the excitement she had expressed about writing it. Some day I’ll make a better recording of the song.
The words are below the video.
I found a place where Angelica grows
I found a place where Angelica grows,
In Sydney Harbour, where marsh birds incline.
I went there one mist-bounded, warm April morning
With three eager children, sea-treasures to find.
They found pretty sea shells, pearl blue in the water;
They splashed through snow rivers and dampened their clothes;
Pieces of driftwood they vowed they would cherish,
And I found a place where Angelica grows.
Angelica, sea-loving gentle white flower,
Was brought here from France, so an old legend goes;
To Louisbourg’s cold rocky land by the sailors,
Who, longing for home, threw its seed on our shores.
Today, ‘gainst the stone of Louisbourg’s ramparts
One sees the white flower lend its grace through the mists;
Its lacy-like bloom has outlasted the generals,
Outlasted the cannons, and maids sailors kissed.
The old legend says that the seeds in the New World
Grow only at Louisbourg, speak France’s woes.
Imagine my joy on that moist April morning
When I found a place where Angelica grows!
The past haunted me as of history borning
As I gathered the children sea-wet from their toes,
Their pockets were crammed to the full with their findings,
But I found a place where Angelica grows.
We all learn more from our parents than we realize. To use a computer analogy, some of what we learn becomes part of our operating system from the day we are born, such as language, culture and our sense of our place in the world. Upgrading this operating system takes a certain kind of work.
Then there are the apps. The practical skills.
One of the first of these apps that I learned from my mother was how to make your clothes match. If your plaid or printed shirt had even a little bit of the colour of your skirt or pants, you were good to go.
A linen suit she made
Sewing was another app that came free with my operating system. Her grandmother had been a dressmaker. Mom sewed many of her own clothes when we were young, and her daughters followed suit. More recently, Frenchies replaced sewing. She shopped at Frenchies with great skill.
She taught me early about getting the most for your money. The persuasive power of advertising which one must resist. The glory of finding something at 50% off.
I learned how to paint and wallpaper, and to create a home environment that reflected one’s tastes and personality – or at least her tastes and personality. As a United Church minister’s wife, she had to endure the Manse Committees who leaned towards grey wallpaper when she yearned for colour. The first room she was allowed to paint was a kitchen in sunny yellow. She revelled in how it shocked some people on the Manse Committee.
The cooking apps evolved over the years, from when the 4 of us were small and our favourite dish was made from macaroni, Velveeta processed cheese, evaporated milk and a can of tomato soup. No Kraft dinner for us! In the 1970s she discovered granola, whole grains and macrobiotic cooking. And Birkenstocks, when they were only fashionable on the alternative fringe. That’s when I started to realize that she was ahead of her time.
She was upgrading her operating system, too. I was quite young when I read her copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, one of the early tracts of the second wave of feminism. Later, she made sure I had my own copy of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, the one with the naked female torso hanging out to dry on a clothesline on the cover. She attended local women’s groups and coffeehouses in Sydney where Rita McNeil played before she got famous.
June at 21
She taught me how to type with all my fingers. This was an app that she picked up at business college in Charlottetown after she’d gone as far as her one-room country school could take her – Grade 10. Business college qualified her to be a secretary, though she really didn’t want to be a secretary. She did so well there that she was offered help to go to Holland College, now UPEI. But it was too far out of her comfort zone at the time, and she declined the offer. She came to regret that decision, and overcame it later with much effort when she earned a Bachelor of Social Work part-time while raising 4 children. (She was very pleased when I posted her graduation photo on Facebook, while she was in the hospital, as she wanted people to know about that achievement.) I took it for granted that I would go to university, but she didn’t. She was thrilled when I was accepted, and more so when I was offered scholarships. But a certain lack of self-confidence, a fear of taking your place in the world, had become part of my operating system as well.
In the 1950s the church was a very important institution in rural areas. It could connect the thinking person with a larger worldview. Young people could meet other interesting young people. There were career opportunities even if your ambitions didn’t extend to becoming a minister. And so, after a few years of working, Mom enrolled in a new Winter Program at the Atlantic Christian Training Centre, now the Tatamagouche Centre, with the idea of working as a church secretary perhaps.
And there she met my father. He offered her, euphemistically, a “permanent job”. Which, as they both understood, meant marriage, children, and the life of a minister’s wife.
It was the tail end of the baby boom, and Mom felt constrained by the limited roles imposed on women, centered on home, family and church. Living in the fishbowl of a rural or small town church with four children was not easy. There were high expectations and a lot of local politics. Who could you really be friends with? Such friendships as my parents had tended to be with other ministers and their wives in other towns.
Fortunately, the Human Potential Movement captured the attention of some leaders in the United Church. The Tatamagouche Centre was the scene of many workshops starting in the 1960s. They offered the chance to upgrade your personal operating system. Mom attended as many as she could and those led to others. She plumbed the depths of her early childhood experiences. Understanding and analysing your inner self – and those close to you – was part of our world. It got pretty intense sometimes, especially as we left home and made our own explorations. We each reacted in our own way, but for Pam and I, when we were in our early 20s, trips home could be like entering an emotional crucible.
But I learned to believe that the healing of old emotional wounds is possible, and that we can emerge from old pain as better functioning people.
And I learned from my mother that we don’t stop growing when our bodies stop growing. Adult life is an ongoing, developmental process.
Photo credit: Béatrice Schuler
My mother – and some of us – were also exploring the spiritual nature of reality, through personal experience, various groups, and books. Out of that work emerged deeper understandings of the soul, God, and our relationships. Those of us who pursued this path, along with our mother, became and remain convinced that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience, not the other way around. That our souls survive the transition we call death. That our souls experience the physical world over the course of many lifetimes. That there is a natural order to how one lifetime influences another. That there are higher spiritual levels of being beyond this world, and that at the highest level we are all One.
My mother called this her “faith” and considered it the most important gift she could give her children.
Meanwhile, my parents’ marriage had not survived. Another lesson for me, as I was close to both of them. I learned not to take sides. I learned how to see a situation from two very different points of view.
Eventually June met Charles Maginley through their sons, Mike and David. They had a wonderful romance and marriage, and though I know it wasn’t always easy, I’m very glad for her that it happened, because he was more compatible for her than my father was, and she blossomed. In photos from the 1980s, she looks radiantly beautiful and happy.
I’m also very grateful to the three of them: my mother, my father and Charles, that we were all able to be together for holiday dinners and family events, especially since my son Malcolm was born.
From my mother, I learned that parenting doesn’t end just because your kids have grown up and moved away from home. If there is a crisis in your child’s life, you will want to do whatever is in your power to help them.
Establishing a separate identity from one’s mother is an important growth task for daughters, and one of the most challenging for me. In fact, there are some of you who knew us both and didn’t realize we were related, because when I came to the South Shore with my family 10 years ago, I made a point of not getting involved in her groups and activities – my loss, I’m sure.
There were things that I learned from my mother that I’ve had to un-learn.
I learned to be less fearful of the world, more bold, more adventurous, more self-confident, more self-reliant. I learned to trust people more, and open myself to others more easily. I learned to be more easygoing, more adaptable. Being taller and somewhat more extroverted helped me upgrade that part of my operating system.
I learned to be less self-conscious of my appearance. She was an exceptionally well-dressed woman and always noticed what you were wearing. I finally even learned to wear something nice for her to notice. Then her work with me was done, and she could die in peace.
One of my hardest lessons has been to learn to recognize my own feelings. Her feelings took up a lot of space in her relationships.
The other hard lesson was letting go of needing her approval. I knew that I had achieved some success when she declared that I wasn’t as nice as I used to be. But we had always competed for authority. And I had to learn that it didn’t always matter whether or not I was right.
During her last month, which she spent in hospital, I came to learn more things about her.
Photo credit: Béatrice Schuler
Her exquisite sensitivity to colour. It was almost all she needed, and one of her last great pleasures. The evolving bouquet of flowers in her room gave her enormous joy and satisfaction.
Her need to create order in her environment. In hospital this shrank to what she could reach from the bed, and she was very particular about it.
Her love and concern for her husband. Between them, I saw a marriage that had reached a ripe level of maturity and passed its final test with flying colours.
How quickly and completely she let go of her long-held self-delusion that she was going to get better. Once the diagnosis was clearly explained, scales fell from her eyes, and she could see what was obvious to the rest of us: that her condition was deteriorating very quickly.
And this is where her “faith” kicked in. I prefer to think of it as “sure knowledge”. She expressed no fear. She was light and bright. Yes, she had a few regrets of things she’d have liked to do. But she appreciated those last days, when we were able to bring her whole family here to be with her, including her sister Shirley who is with us by Skype, to the best of her capacity.
She died well. And that was the ultimate gift she gave to those who loved her.
The urn for June’s ashes was designed and built by her son, Mike Holm, and painted by her old friend, artist Eliza Schurman. The top of the urn was left open to hold a flower arrangement for the service.
Here is a video from the Memorial Service in which Eliza talks about the images on the urn, the process of painting it, and her friendship with June. More photos further down.
Mike Holm with the urn that he designed and built
On the front panel, three wise old women, June in the middle.
The Green Man, a widespread symbol of vegetative growth and rebirth.