Saturday, May 7, 2011

In Memory, In Hope

My friend Missy and I had the extreme honor today of representing our precious Caris’ family for her, at a memorial service held at University of Virginia Children’s Hospital. The service is held annually, honoring and remembering children who have passed away while being treated at the hospital. Originally, a large group of us had planned to go, but as the time came closer, Caris’ parents felt that it was too soon for them to return to the place that represented such grief to them. Although we understood completely, Missy and I couldn’t bear the thought of no family or friends being there to represent their little girl- and so we offered to attend the service on their behalf.

UVa is about a 3 hour drive from our city. Let me just say, Missy and I are the queens of road trip entertainment. It is one of our favorite pastimes, whatever the reason for the trip is. We had a great drive, stopping at Mellow Mushroom in Charlottesville for lunch. I’m saying all of this to bring myself to this point: I put off thinking about the reason for this trip. Consequently, I was completely sideswiped by the grief that struck me when we pulled into the UVa parking lot.

The set up when we walked in was tranquil, soothing. People speaking in hushed, gentle voices, making eye contact and smiling softly. There was a guestbook we signed, baskets full of travel tissues, and print outs of poems and encouraging thoughts. When we walked into the hall, we were handed programs and carnations, to place on the Tree of Life. At this point my eyes were already welling up, my heart hurting. We took our seats and opened the programs. Inside was an order of service, and a folded piece of paper, covered front and back.

Covered with names.

The only thought in my stunned brain was, “There are too many names here. Too many.” And although only one name was significant to me, one Caris AnnaBelle Tate, I knew every name on that page represented an entire ocean of life, grief, hope, prayers, and tears. Every name spoke of a life too short, a family forever changed. I wept openly for those names- over 200 of them.

The service was beautiful, comforting. It didn’t belittle anyone’s grief- it honored and revered it. It spoke tenderly of anguish, with an underlying tone of hope. One mother spoke of her son, who passed away after more than two years fighting leukemia, right before his 8th birthday. With his passing more than 5 years behind them, she spoke with hope in her voice, confidence in that hope. She said, “Your pain will change. It will get... I won’t say easier, but it will be different.”

When Caris AnnaBelle’s name was called, Missy and I walked to the front and placed our flowers in the tree. We were blessed and humbled to be there. We spoke a litany at the end, one that speaks of grief and hope better than I ever could:

Leader: The flowers before us remind us of particular children, your children, who have touched us all with life, with joy, and with deeply felt sorrow.
People: We celebrate the gifts they gave us and acknowledge the anguish their deaths have caused.

Leader: In the aching of our hearts, we are reminded of our loss and also of the love we shared and continue to give.
People: We lift up all that is within us--joy and sorrow, favored memories and dashed hopes, loneliness and heart-felt connection, and so much more.

Leader: We are challenged to go on caring, made more aware by our own distress. Our ears hear cries and our eyes see needs as we continue to reach out with our love.
People: As we seek solace, may we also give solace; as we seek comfort, may we also comfort.

Leader: This is the faithful journey of loving and being loved, free to grieve and free to serve.
People: May strength of spirit and gentle trust fill our lives and bring us peace.

ALL: Amen.

So tonight, I am praying, in memory, and in hope. In memory of Caris, and of every child named on that too-long list. In hope that their families will be comforted and given peace beyond their own understanding; and that one day their pain, while perhaps not getting easier, will soften, change, and give birth to hope itself.


  1. wow mary, this is beautiful in so many ways. maggie is honored to have such special friends as you & missy.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this Mary. I'm weeping over that too-long list with you.

  3. Precious friends for sweet Maggie. Caris Annabelle, how we wish that name was not on that too long list... God comfort those aching families.