I was called upon to create and lead a memorial service this afternoon for the LIGHT program. This program provides memorial services for people with developmental disabilities who might otherwise not have a service. Many times, people have outlived or are not connected to their families of origin. Sometimes the family is involved, but services take place outside of the comfort zone of the person's peers and staff support. And so, LIGHT strives to hold services that are culturally and spiritually appropriate for the person and those who supported him/her. Using music, dance, art, photos, and any means possible of helping those assembled to express their loss; services are diverse and touching. In this particular case, I didn't know the woman who had died. She had no living family, but had a staff who adored her. She was non-verbal, and communicated through facial gestures, body language and vocalizations. It was difficult to gather even the most basic information; the things we take for granted. Favorite music, favorite color..all left to the best guess of those who loved her.
Her staff did an outstanding job of interpreting her favorite color and music, and designed a remembrance table for the ceremony. This woman's peers attended, along with some of their families, staff and one of the staff's children. There were readings, prayers and tributes. Then it was time for a song. This little toddler, came forward and took my hand as the music began to play. Her cherubic face, framed in golden curls lit up, as her hips began to move and our hearts began to soften. Guests who might not have otherwise cracked a smile began to clap to the music and sway with the little girls' movements. We ended the service with a prayer in motion. Again, as the music played, everyone took part as this child led us heart first into prayer so sacred it moved most of us to tears. After the service, the manager came over to give me a hug. "That was so perfect." She whispered. She remarked that she couldn't figure out what it was that was so moving until she realized that the child embodied pure joy. In that brief time, she and others who knew the woman being honored let go of all concerns about favorite colors and favorite songs. They remembered instead the woman's sheer joy. They reminisced about the way her smile lit up a room. They marveled at the way Spirit intervenes, shaking our ego centered best intentions and reducing them to the purity of emotion. Pure beauty. Pure light. Pure love. Surely the embodiment of joy.