Our friend Parisa Parsa, a Unitarian minister, wrote and performed a beautiful service that day, I've copied the words below. We finished the service at the beach, throwing flowers in the water to say goodbye. We then had dinner afterwards with the entire group. It was a perfect afternoon. It was rainy, bracingly cold, and windy, but all of that seemed appropriate, given the circumstances.
Memorial for Chiara Astra
December 16, 2012
Written and led by Reverend Parisa Parsa, First Parish Church of Milton, MA
Welcome and Gathering
Friends, on behalf of A and J, I welcome you to this remembrance and marking of a life lost too soon: the life of Chiara Astra.
It’s a mystery what winds of fate and fortune draw us to one another, weave our hearts together, and make us witnesses to one another’s greatest joys and deepest sorrows. We bow to that mystery in this gathering, as A and J have reached out for their closest circle to be present with them to mark Chiara’s loss, and you have responded not just with the opening of your hearts but by the presence of your bodies in this circle. We honor also the presence in spirit of those who wished they could be here today and send their love: J’s family in XXX and A’s sister in XXX. We light a candle to symbolize their presence with us this afternoon.
Knowing when to name the beginning and ending of life is one of the vexing questions in our human story.
Science has a range of answers about our beginnings,
from the moment cells begin to divide with purpose
to the moment of a heart beat,
to the moment of neural activity.
And even among those answers there are judgment calls to make, meanings to be parsed.
Our hearts, too, have different answers all of which are true, and none of which are complete.
Do our lives begin when those who will become our parents first decide to join their lives?
When they take the terrifying and joyful and utterly foolhardly leap into parenthood?
Or is it when the pregnancy is discovered and they find a quickening joy in their hearts they cannot explain?
Or when we first make our cry to announce our presence to the world?
Chiara Astra’s story certainly began in some way with A and J’s meeting, and took on new shape when they had their first tentative conversations about possibly having children, and yet another reality when they looked at each other a day after S was born and knew they wanted to have more children, and still another meaning when A called J from her travels in Africa to confirm that she was indeed pregnant. A writes, “Chiara was a long time in the making and we wanted her so much.” Her biological life was held in A’s womb for five and 1/2 months, but her life of meaning will be woven into her family’s story forever.
As they named her, A and J wanted to connect their daughter with a much greater meaning. Chiara is from A’s Italian grandmother R. Chiaravalotti, with whom she was very close, and so Chiara is named with the lineage of her ancestors on another part of the planet. Chiara means clear and bright, and her middle name Astra means star. This clear bright star connects us with the heavens, with the stars, with the infinite universe that is far beyond our grasp and in whose embrace we are always held.
For a Child Born Dead by Elizabeth Jennings
What ceremony can we fit
You into now? If you had come
Out of a warm and noisy room
To this, there'd be an opposite
For us to know you by. We could
Imagine you in lively mood
And then look at the other side,
The mood drawn out of you, the breath
Defeated by the power of death.
But we have never seen you stride
Ambitiously the world we know.
You could not come and yet you go.
But there is nothing now to mar
Your clear refusal of our world.
Not in our memories can we mould
You or distort your character.
Then all our consolation is
That grief can be as pure as this.
We surround A and J this day with our prayers, with our love, and with our sympathy for all the potential for the rest of their lives that they imagined woven together with Chiara’s. We hold with them the questions about who she would have resembled and what would have made her giggle and what would have made her angry, what mark she would have made on their family and in this world… all of those dreamed-of possibilities are now held in the realm of the eternal, unknowable.
And yet what we know is that she did make her mark, however brief, in the deep love A and J offered each other and Chiara while knowing that her life had ended, attending to her body, knowing their precious baby girl, letting their grief be as real and true as their love. And she made her mark in the very fact of her being, the space opened for her and that lost in the absence of her, the very fact of her being brought another level of insight, of connection, of value to this world.
There is little more known about life’s end than its beginning, except that it is also inevitable. And in each loss of life we’re reminded that all of the swirling atoms of our being make their mark, take their place in the wonderful, crazy, and sometimes tragic events that make our lives worth living. In that, each loss reminds us of our deep connection with all who have lost, with all who have gone before, and our hearts are opened to the ten thousand sorrows that flow in wide rivers through our human journey. Though Chiara’s presence in this world was brief and hidden to all but a few, her impact was real. Her life was true. And it goes on, as does all life, as does all love.
Please join me in prayer:
God who is known by many names and too large for any one of them,
We turn to your infinity when we feel most aware of what is finite,
And we bow deep to the mysteries of birth and death
And pray that we may be worthy of making lives of meaning in the in-between.
We lift up the spirit of Chiara Astra and we commend her to the care of a benevolent universe, to the sea of all love, past, present and future, and to the realm of all our loved ones who have gone before. We especially remember:
And the loved ones and family members of those gathered here today – please name them aloud if you wish….
For the ancestors now drawn together, a great cloud of witnesses in our midst, we light this candle
We remember, too, those who have lost children, as well as the children who have been lost too soon, whose presence and lives are hidden but no less real, and in this time of silence we hold those lost children and their parents in our hearts….
For those who share in the too often unspoken, unseen communion of this loss, and for their children, we light this candle
We give thanks in the midst of all this remembrance that the beings, the spirits, the atoms of those who have touched our lives, for the gift of these wide open hearts, for the blessing of the compassion that weds us together and helps us to bear one another’s sorrows.
For the blessing we receive each time we are visited by a loved on in our sorrow, each time we offer ourselves to another to walk the hardest road, we give great thanks.
In the midst of our remembrance, our thanksgiving, let us be reminded of the gift of life, and humbled by its fragile grace.
Let those of us who go on living, who have the power of love to guide us and sustain us, whose minds can choose to live ever more fully toward the good that is in us, among us and beyond us, do all that we can with the gift of our lives, for as long as the gift is opened for us.
Let us make good on the memory of those we have lost by living lives of beauty and compassion on this earth.
Amen, and blessed be.
A and J have asked that the next part of our ceremony take place at Good Harbor Bridge, so we’ll make our way there now.
At the bridge:
Mary Oliver has written:
In order to live in this world
You must be able to do three things:
To love what is mortal
To hold it against your bones as if your own life depended on it
And when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
We know that letting go is not ever a one-time event,
That we let go slowly, let go of different things,
Let go in many ways over time
So this afternoon everyone is invited to take a flower to symbolize Chiara
And a flower to symbolize someone else you have lost
To remember them prayerfully and hold their loss fully in your heart
As you walk across the bridge
And at the moment you are ready to let go,
To let the flower enter the water,
Carried by the wind.
All of nature’s elements will have been with us in our gathering today:
The fire at the inn,
The earth on which we now stand,
The wind that will carry the flower
The water that will bear it on.
Take your time in the journey with your flowers
Take your time in the journey with your heart
And we will gather again at the Inn for fellowship
and to continue in the sharing of this life, together.
Go in peace, to dwell in love.