There was a kind of magic at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse on the evening of 3 August 2016. Our hospital atrium was transformed into a sacred space for the memorial service to remember our loved ones who have died. It was an evening which touched everyone present at a very deep level.
Our inaugural memorial service brought together Lifehouse community members to pause, to reflect and to remember all those lost to cancer, with almost all of the 100 seats taken.
CEO Eileen Hannagan said the service was incredibly moving.
“We were lucky enough to have Damien Leith performing and to have so many families come back to Lifehouse. It was an opportunity to remember loved ones lost, in an environment that was so supportive, and it was incredibly powerful,” Eileen said.
“I felt so lucky to be able to speak afterwards to many families who had come back to remember their loved ones, and who had conquered their fears about returning to do so,” Eileen said.
Spiritual Care Coordinator Janine said the memorial service was about caring for the human spirit.
“The intention was to take people on a journey. It was about letting them just be real with whatever’s going on inside. Grief hurts so much we often push most of it away. When our suffering is acknowledged and validated, and our emotions are not judged, we become free to be as we really are.”
“It is never easy to hold conflicting emotions yet grief forces us to do that. It evokes in us all the love we have experienced, and swamps us with the pain of separation. Our memorial service allowed people to connect with their love, their loss and their courage, all at the same time. It can be a bonding and healing experience to do that in community with others who are also grieving,” said Janine.
The service featured a flower-taking ceremony and a “ritual of remembrance” in which participants each took a flower, representing the beauty of love, family and friendship, and then spoke the name of their loved one into the microphone.
“This allowed participants to really be involved, and to rally their courage to say their loved ones’ name out loud, which is far more personal that hearing someone else read it out,” Janine said.
After speaking the name of their loved one, participants rang a Tibetan singing bowl. Janine explained its meaning by saying, “As the sound fills the room, just know that the name and the memory of your loved one also fills the room and know that you are held in the compassionate embrace of our community.”
“We are painfully stretched and expanded until we find space within us for grief to dwell. It changes us forever. You and your family are not the same as you were before you were forced to expand to fit cancer into your lives and lifestyles. It forces you to become courageous to face each day. You are stronger, braver and far more courageous than you realise,” Janine said.
Board member Gail O’Brien said it was a privilege to say a few words on “Remembering”, which brought to mind the words of the poet Robert Fitzgerald: “Time is a fool if it thinks to have ended, one single splendid thing that has been”.
“To me, the ceremony validated the fulfilment of the vision to hold close those who are bereaved in our Chris O’Brien Lifehouse community. Our pain was palpable and our vulnerability was exposed. The shared experience of suffering brought us close despite many of us never having met before,” Gail said.
“Although there were many tears, I found the ceremony healing. I’m sure others did also. How grateful I am to have been present at this very beautiful evening,” Gail said.
Janine said participants may even choose to return next year, for many expressed afterwards that it was a deeply meaningful and relevant experience for them.