“We need music,” Sue says. “We need something that takes people through their grief, and helps lift them up at the end of the service.”
She’s my boss, so I nod and start thinking about how to canvas our supporters for musicians, immediately fretting about how I’d say “no” to someone kind enough to offer, if the skills offered didn’t fit the bill.
“I’ll pay for it,” she continues. I’m relieved. I don’t know if Sue means she’ll pay for a musician personally or try to find some wiggle room in our budget, but it doesn’t matter. We need to do this service right, and I’d considered making the same offer.
Sue is the Executive Director of Bethesda Cares; at our staff meeting last week, after two clients died in one weekend, we decided to hold a memorial for all 7 clients we lost in the past year or so. Some, we had placed into housing. Others, not yet. All, however, after suffering years of homelessness, died far sooner than they otherwise might have.
The service will, of course, let us both remember the dead and honor the living; I’m only starting to realize that it’ll probably also open emotional floodgates our staff usually keep shut.
Finding a space for the service was blessedly easy. We have close partnerships with many local congregations, and several immediately offered, in response to our request. We selected one near our office, and the pastor readily agreed not just to run the service, but also to keep it balanced enough to serve those with religions other than his, as well as those with none.
“I’ll write something,” I blurt, tears springing to my eyes. I immediately see the many different directions remarks could take; all made my heart ache. “Or maybe find a reading,” I back down.
“Let’s set it for 10:00, so it’s separate from our meal program,” Mark says. “And we can all walk over to the service together, staff and clients.”
Someone else mentions flowers, and we agree we’ll need a light reception afterwards, and a printed program. And maybe a blank book in our Drop-In Center, where people can share their thoughts and memories, when they’re ready to.
As the memorial draws closer, I keep thinking of details to address, largely around how to help make this most meaningful for our clients. For instance, we have a clothing closet, but it is physically relatively small, so what we collect and offer is nearly all casual-wear, because that’s what our clients need. But will clients want to dress up for the service? Should we ask supporters for more formal clothes? If so, how would we know what sizes, or genders, to request? If we offer suits to our clients, would that help them, or make them feel that the little they own is inadequate?
And for those still living on our streets, what about their stuff? We usually don’t let people leave belongings in our offices, for a variety of reasons, including wanting them to want closets of their own. But having them drag their stuff to and from a memorial, keeping track of it while they have some cookies and share some memories, seems somehow wrong to me.
As I’m typing, my eyes are welling up once again, and I know I’d be wise to stuff my pockets with tissues before the service. That makes me think of the clients who will attend the memorial, who will undoubtedly be in more pain than I, but who don’t even have the buck fifty for a pack of tissues. Or who live so much in the moment that they wouldn’t, as I, have the luxury of planning my grief in advance. I make a note to bring some extras.
Yes, I know some of these are very small details, but they matter to me. Our clients face indignities every day of their lives, and if we can eliminate them just this one time, I want to. So, yeah. I’ll keep wondering what else I’ve overlooked.
The memorial will be at Bethesda Presbyterian Church, led by Reverend Chuck Booker, on February 24th at 10:00. All are welcome.