Let me start off by saying that I’ve only been to one memorial service in my life that I remember, and that was for my great-grandmother. She was in her 90’s when she passed away, so she lived a long life that was taken slowly by Alzheimer’s. During that whole service, back when I was in 9th grade, I hated everything about it. Why did she have to leave? Why did this horrible disease choose her? And so on, and so on with lots of questions leading up to theodicy, which I guess is why I am so intrigued by this theological construct. Theodicy tries to answer the question of why God permits evil to manifest in this world if he is the all-knowing, all-loving, god that we believe him to be? She didn’t deserve to die, so why did God let her suffer for so long? I was so upset and angry; I slowly went to church less through high school and it may or may not have been one of the reasons floating in the back of my head as to why.
Fast forward to present day. I am a Religious Studies major at Susquehanna University participating in the Thinking About Working For God Apprenticeship program. I was asked by my home church pastor, Rev. Jane Hawken of Portland Congregational Church, if I could come and observe a memorial service. She said I could sit in one of the back of the pews and leave if I felt uncomfortable. She encouraged me to come regardless, especially because if I enter her line of work, I need to be prepared to lead services such as this. I must admit that on that bright Saturday morning, I felt like an outsider, just some weirdo who attended a funeral for a person I never knew. As the service started and people filed in, I began watching everything with the intent to understand who this man was in his time on earth. His son, daughter, and neighbor came up, one by one, telling stories of the crazy adventures and life-lessons that this man gifted them with.
He jumped off roofs with ease, was an adventurer, a nature lover, and a great father. The more these people talked and the more the congregational responded with slight smiles and little chuckles, I realized something. The ONLY thing that matters in life is how many people you touched. All of those people in the pews knew this man on different levels, but he was a positive presence in their lives in one way or another. For me it was like I was entering another life, a life with a man I never knew in it. In all honesty, he sounded like a great person whom I would have gotten along with, especially with our common love of nature.
This service was a celebration of a man whom had Alzheimer’s, just like my great-grandmother. Even though I didn’t know this man personally, I read in the room not quite sadness but a celebration of his life. Honestly, the question of ‘why did God take him?’ was less in a tone of anger but more a way of bringing all of the people he touched together, one last time. I believe that the knowledge I have gained through the years as well as my studies have changed my view of the world around me, although I will be forever fascinated theodicy.
Grace Winakor is an apprentice in the Thinking About Working For God program, a signature ministry of the Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the CT Conference, UCC.
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